Monday, 5 September 2011

Book Review: Velvet by Mary Hooper

Goodreads description

Velvet is a laundress in a Victorian steam laundry. With both her mother and father dead, she is an orphan and has to rely upon her own wits to make a living. The laundry is scalding, back-breaking work and Velvet is desperate to create a better life for herself. Then Velvet is noticed by Madame Savoya a famed medium, who asks Velvet to come to work for her. Velvet is dazzled at first by the young yet beautifully dressed and bejewelled Madame. But soon Velvet realises that Madame Savoya is not all that she says she is, and Velvet's very life is in danger ...A romantic and thrillingly exciting new novel from an acclaimed and much-loved historical writer for teens.

My thoughts

I first heard about Velvet when Mary Hooper was in the first stages of writing it, about a month before her previous book Fallen Grace was published as she visited my school and I loved the sound of the storyline of a young laundress mixed up in the Victorian spiritualism industry. Hooper is the author that introduced me to historical fiction (for which I’m eternally grateful!) so her books are automatically on my must-read list.

The story is told from the point of view of the heroine Velvet in the first person, an orphan who works as a laundress. I warmed to her character within the first few chapters because despite growing up in a home with an abusive father who regularly came home drunk and spent his wages on gambling, she still had the courage to believe that she could make a better life for herself and remained positive. I admired her strength and determination to live independently and better herself in an era where it was frowned upon for women, particularly in the working class, to have high aspirations. She also had a rather sweet innocence because of her inexperience in the ways of the world that led her to seem gullible sometimes, especially when it came to her encounters with mediums. At times I found this a little annoying but I had to remember Velvet’s background and the setting.

It was really clever how there are passages with Velvet’s employer Madame Savoya- the medium- with her clients that let the reader know the secrets of her work whilst Velvet does not because it gave a completely different viewpoint. Although the down side was that it made some of the plot a little predictable. Madame Savoya herself was an interesting character and she made me wonder how mediums like her could live on the riches conned from her poor clients without feeling guilty.

I was glad to find the historical detail that I love so much in Hooper’s writing because it gave the perfect sense of Victorian London, providing intriguing insights to life in that era without unnecessary details that weigh the narrative down. . The main focus is on the business of mediums and spiritualists who use the popularity of the spirit realm amongst the upper classes during Victorian times and the vulnerability of the bereaved to trick people into giving up their money. I really enjoyed learning about how this industry was conducted and the lavish lifestyles mediums led through it. There was also a harrowing passage that shows the atrocities of baby farms and the historical note at the end gives more information on this for readers who are interested in finding out more. As in her other books, famous Victorian characters appear in the book too such as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle and the baby farmer Amelia Dyer. It is clear that a lot of research has gone into creating this authentic atmosphere and it really pays off.

For those looking for a bit of romance, there is a smidgen that was enough to keep me satisfied but it’s really a background story that doesn't get developed much in the story and left much to my imagination at the end. 

Verdict: Mary Hooper has again transported me back in time with Velvet’s relatable characters, wonderfully compelling writing style and fascinating insights into the spiritualist world of Victorian London. Despite this, I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed that it didn't top Fallen Grace as I was so hoping it would but if you haven't read this or anything else by Mary yet, I recommend you do!

Rating: 4 stars

Thank you to Bloomsbury for providing me with a copy for review.

If you like the sound of Velvet, check out the first post on it's blog tour to celebrate the UK release this week over at Wondrous Reads for an interview with Mary.


  1. Glad you liked it. I'm looking forward to reading this one now! :)

  2. Sounds great! I like reading about spiritualism and I love how there's a lot to learn in this book.

  3. Hey, you're back! :) This one sounds a bit like Haunting Violet — perhaps YA historical novels involving spiritualist London are becoming a trend? :D

  4. great review, I cant wait to give this one a go when I get hold of a copy in London! :D


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