I borrowed this book from the library, knowing nothing about Barbara Ewing, but just liking the sound of the story. And I have discovered a great popular writer, who I see has just published another book, The Circus of Ghosts. Obviously lots of other people know how great she is, because it is currently sitting in the number one slot in Smith's. So yes, I have bought that one too.
The Mesmerist has been brilliantly researched and gives insights into the Victorian craze for mesmerism with its then scandalous and salacious overtones of being able to affect another person through the use of
healing hands. This area of human capacity is still mysterious even today, and indeed is mysterious to Cordelia, the mesmerist of the title. Ewing does a great job of exploring the intricacies of how it might feel to mesmerize - or be mesmerized.
The book also has a great forward-moving rags to riches plot with many twists, which is based around the struggle of women for respectability in professional life, and how they might seize responsibility in a man's world. I can't say much more about it, or it will spoil the unfolding story.
The main characters are women who are seen at all stages of life, from very young to the dementia of old age, all of whom are interestingly drawn and leap vividly to life off the page. There is murder, a riveting court case, and all the fun of the theatre.
Very highly recommended.
Darcy and Fitzwilliam by Karen Wasylowski
I am not a particularly fanatical Austen fan, certainly not a purist, but I do like the wit of Jane Austen, and so was ready to embrace the tale of Darcy and his cousin with open arms. I was not disappointed. What impressed me most about this book was that it was the feel of Austen, but updated. It is very difficult to be funny in an Austen-esque way and still be fresh. Too often the humour doesn't properly succeed. But the impact that Austen must have had in her day is all here, in this laugh-out-loud romp through Darcy's post wedding adventures, and those of his irrepressible "brother".
I was unprepared for just how funny the book would be. The scene where Lizzie is giving birth, with Amanda's small, curious, stiffly-educated son looking on, is hilarious, and had my husband wondering why I was laughing so much. Even the servants have been wittily expanded, and the book is funny because it is so well-observed. It pokes fun at regency attitudes to women, and gently lampoons the mores and morals of the time. There is also a sense in which the English themselves are satirized, and this is refreshing, but not at all offensive.
After the initial forty or so pages of set-up the book fairly sweeps along with misunderstandings aplenty, and it is no slight volume. The characters have to be impeccably constructed for the situation comedy to work, and Karen Wasylowski has done this thoroughly, also the research on her period and The Peninsula War gives the reader just the right amount of setting.
A great read, that works whether you have read any Austen or not.