Audiobook Review: The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Historical Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Penguin Audio (June 1, 2020)
Length: 10 hrs and 44 mins
Narrator: Ell Potter
The latest from Laura Purcell, The Shape of Darkness is as dark and twisty as we’ve come to expect from the queen of gothic suspense. The setting is Victorian Bath, where an ailing silhouette artist struggles to keep her business afloat in a world moving towards camera photography. With each passing day, fewer and fewer people seem interested in Agnes Darken’ craft, while at home she still has her elderly mother and 12-year-old nephew Cedric to care for. With work already hard to come by, Agnes is shaken when her latest client is found dead, his throat cut and his face smashed in, just before she can complete the final touches on his portrait. Now, not only will her finances remain strained, but she’s also beginning to think someone might be targeting her business by killing her customers, especially when mysterious deaths connected to her seem to keep happening.
After the third person to sit for her is found murdered, Agnes knows she must take matters into her own hands, given the police won’t take her suspicions seriously. Desperate to know why this might be happening to her, she decides to go against the advice of her doctor friend Simon by consulting a medium. Her search leads her to the doorstep of Myrtle West, who claims to be a mesmerist, and her half-sister Pearl Meers, an 11-year-old seer who recently came into her gift. It is Agnes’s hope that if Pearl can communicate with the spirits of her clients, they might be able to reveal who killed them and why. Still, pretty soon, they realize that meddling with the unseen might not be so wise, and that the ghosts of the dead may not be so forthcoming…or friendly.
As you probably know, in the last few years Laura Purcell has become a must-read author for me. This is my fourth novel by her, having previously read and loved The Silent Companions, The Poison Thread, and The House of Whispers, and now I’m excited to report that The Shape of Darkness is another winner, containing all the spine-tingling, creepy gothic goodness that I’ve come to love from her books. There’s often a strong element of mystery to her stories as well, not to mention a certain ambiguity surrounding the supernatural forces that might or might not be in play, and this was definitely no exception.
Another hallmark of the author’s books appears to be her tortured protagonists, who frequently bear the weight of their emotional and sometimes physical scars. This usually makes them highly unreliable narrators, and just when you think you understand how they tick, you will discover something surprising that completely changes everything. Following Agnes’s point-of-view was very much like that, as each chapter gradually reveals more of her backstory. Life for her has become a series of misfortunes ever since falling ill a few years ago, and she is still recovering from the effects. Her sister also died, which is why her son Cedric is being raised by our protagonist. Agnes wants to do right by the boy, but can hardly even afford to keep herself clothed and fed some days. Now her only source of income is also dwindling, as silhouettes fall out of popularity in favor of photographs. What’s clear is that Purcell’s deft handling of character development paints a sympathetic picture of Agnes, and readers can’t help but feel for her plight, especially since her passion for her art is so genuine and deep. For real, this book actually made me wish traditional silhouette portrait cutting was still in fashion.
And of course, we have the atmosphere. This is THE number one reason to read Purcell’s books, if you ask me. Even when the overall vibe of the story is bleak and heavy, she has a talent for always making her settings feel authentic and alive. Steeped with supernatural undertones, things feel even more haunted and unsettling, with Pearl’s chapters and the séance scenes being prime examples. However, I would still hesitate to categorize this novel as straight-up horror, as it’s way too subtle and nuanced. That said though, it would also be a mistake to underestimate the creep factor—you have been warned.
Bottom line, with The Shape of Darkness, Laura Purcell has written another deliciously dark gothic novel with more than a few mind-bending surprises. Granted, some of them might turn out to be more predictable than others, but overall I can’t deny I had a good time with this one. As always, I look forward to the author’s next project.
Audiobook Review: Superbly narrated, The Shape of Darkness audiobook was a great way to experience this novel, with Ell Potter’s rich accents and tones greatly enhancing the story’s atmosphere.