Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack
Haunting Violet is a standalone novel by the author of the Drake Chronicles (to date, My Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Feud, and Out for Blood). At least, I assume this is a standalone novel; it reads that way, although there is the potential for some major characters to reappear if this turns out to be a series.
When Violet Willoughby was nine years old, her mother told her that she was old enough and pretty enough to help with the family business. To put it bluntly, they con the grieving; Violet’s mother pretends to be a medium who can put the rich and gullible in touch with their lost ones. Violet is sickened by the pretense and by taking advantage of people so obviously grief-stricken. Her mother has no qualms, feeling that the world owes her a living and this is the easiest way for her to get it. And in fact, she’s quite good at her faking. They live a life short of luxury, but certainly of greater security than they could otherwise achieve. Why, it even looks like Violet, now 16, could make a good marriage to a rich man.
They are invited to a house party, where Violet is expected to finally ensnare the young man who’s been courting her, and her mother expects to gain enough funds to assure her way of life for several more years. But it all falls apart when Violet genuinely begins to see spirits. This is something of a shock to her as she’s never actually believed in spirits; and it’s even more of a shock when the ghost of a young girl named Rowena elects her to be the one to solve the mystery of her murder. She won’t leave Violet alone until the person who killed her is brought to justice.
The plot of Haunting Violet is going to be very obvious to experienced readers; even many of the young adults at whom this is aimed will quickly pick up on what’s happening, and will probably be able to guess at the roles various characters fill. Even the basic idea of a fake psychic who discovers they actually do have psychic powers isn’t exactly new. However, it’s a credit to Harvey that this is still a highly suspenseful novel; despite having picked exactly who the villain was quite a long time earlier, I found it hard to put the novel down during the climatic chapter. Harvey writes action well, and presents strong characters to engage her readers.
Violet is the viewpoint character, highly recognisable and sympathetic to young readers. She is a strongly drawn and realistic character, and most readers will quickly find themselves cheering her on and tensely hoping for the best for her. She is supported by a cast of equally well drawn characters. These include Elizabeth, the young society girl who befriends Violet; Lord Jasper, the host of the house party; Colin, the young man who helps the Willoughby’s in their cons; Tabitha, the twin of the dead girl; and Xavier Trethewey, the young man courting Violet.
Harvey also depicts friendships between teenage girls vividly and well; this was one of the strengths of her first novel, My Love Lies Bleeding. Here again she draws a strong friendship between Violet and Elizabeth, depicting not only the strengths of the friendship but also the occasional prickly moment and problem. I found both characters interesting, and their friendship brought out another dimension to both.
The romances in the novel are relatively chaste compared to some young adult novels. This is largely a product of the time in which the novel is set – 1872 – as Harvey has addressed the sexuality of teenagers in other books (admittedly, still quite chastely compared to some writers). However, the passion between the various young girls and their suitors is believable and strong.
Harvey has a fluid writing style that flows well. She uses a colloquial style that probably matches today’s language better than that of the 1800s, but the result is a novel that doesn’t feel stilted and helps the reader lose themselves in the story. It is also a good match for Violet, an internal voice that helps convey her character to us ever more vividly.
Haunting Violet isn’t particularly original, but it’s very well written and engaging. Most young readers will find it very engrossing, and older readers will probably find themselves caught up in it as well.