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The Shape of Darkness

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As the age of the photograph dawns in Victorian Bath, silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another... Why is the killer seemingly targeting her business?

Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them. But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something they can never put back.

416 pages, Hardcover

First published January 21, 2021

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About the author

Laura Purcell

13 books2,223 followers
Laura Purcell is a former bookseller and lives in Colchester with her husband and pet guinea pigs.

Her first novel for Raven Books THE SILENT COMPANIONS won the WHSmith Thumping Good Read Award 2018 and featured in both the Zoe Ball and Radio 2 Book Clubs. Other Gothic novels include THE CORSET (THE POISON THREAD in USA), BONE CHINA and THE SHAPE OF DARKNESS (2020)

Laura’s historical fiction about the Hanoverian monarchs, QUEEN OF BEDLAM and MISTRESS OF THE COURT, was published by Myrmidon.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 720 reviews
Profile Image for Maureen .
1,325 reviews7,104 followers
October 19, 2020
The bleak, dark, and oppressive atmosphere of mid 19th century Bath, a dirty and unsanitary place, lends much to the supernatural storyline, as it winds its ethereal way down the misty paths of mediumship, with a little mesmerism thrown in for good measure.

Agnes Darken lives with her elderly mother and orphaned nephew Cedric. She earns a living as a silhouette artist in order to support the three of them - that is until one of her clients is found murdered, shortly after sitting for Agnes. Naturally Agnes is upset on hearing the news, but then it happens again with her next client - and the next!

She believes that someone is out to destroy her business, and in her desperation to discover who would do that, she consults Pearl, a spirit medium who lives with her domineering sister Myrtle, (a mesmerist), and her ailing father. Pearl is only 11 years old but she has a very good reputation for making contact with those who have passed over to the spirit world. Agnes believes that the killer will be revealed if Pearl can contact his victims.

You know the old saying, be careful what you wish for? Well the seances may just unleash something that neither of them want to confront!

This is Victorian gothic as it should be - dark creepy houses, silent, apart from the ticking of the old grandfather clock, with some chilling encounters thrown in, some of which trace icy fingers down the spine - in addition, there were some really surprising twists, and I have to say, a very unexpected and shocking conclusion!

A great murder mystery, aided by the author’s excellent application of deception, (I never guessed the way it would end!) along with the added intrigue of supernatural events.

* Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, (Raven Books) for an ARC in exchange for an honest unbiased review *
Profile Image for Beata.
713 reviews1,085 followers
September 8, 2020
Ms Purcell has become one of my favourite Victorian ghotic authors, and I was delighted to have been offered the latest of her books to read.
Bath, 1854. The times of increased interest in mesmerism, spiritual seanses and the art of making silhuettes that is becoming less and less popular due to new techniques, namely, daguerreotype and photography.
Agnes Darken lives with her ailing mother and her nephew trying to make ends meet by making silhuettes. Mysteriously, her sitters become victims of a murderer. Miss Darken begins to become both scared and obsessed by the events and decides to turn to a medium, a girl called Pearl, for help. Pearl's story is heart-breaking in its own way ...
The plot is most engaging and intriguing, and the climax as unpredicatble as may be expected in a novel by Ms Purcell. I always love the way Ms Purcell gradually unravels her characters. I know there is something hidden and lifting the curtain inch by inch is a most thrilling reading experience.
I especially appreciated the motifs from Ms Purcell's three other ghotic books delicately included in The Shape of Darkness.
A sheer feast for the fans of the genre!
*A big thank-you to Laura Purcell, Bloomsbury Publishing, and NetGalley for arc in exchange for my honest review.*
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,539 reviews24.6k followers
December 19, 2020
Once again Laura Purcell gives us perfect winter reading fare with her atmospheric Victorian era Gothic spine chiller set in the filthy, disease ridden, bleak streets of Bath in the late 19th century. Agnes Darken has been struck by illness that has left her fragile and vulnerable, a woman with responsibilities to provide for her elderly mother and her much loved orphan nephew Cedric. As a silhouette artist, she is struggling in a time where people are turning to and preferring the new fields of photography and daguerreotypes. So when her silhouette clients start being murdered, it is understandable that Agnes is left a worried and frightened woman, why would anyone want to target her business?

She looks for answers and the identity of a killer from beyond the grave, more specifically from 11 year old albino spiritualist, Pearl, a girl with her own issues, some of which echo those of Agnes, and who has a dominating half sister in mesmerist, Myrtle West. In a story of the supernatural that includes seances, ghosts, where in an ever increasing menacing, creepy and eerie narrative, horror and danger lurks. Insightful information is provided about the matchstick industry and the terrible and deadly effects it has on its workers. This is dark, sinister and dramatic read of grief and loss, secrets and deception, filled with Purcell's trademark twists and surprises.

What makes Purcell a stand out author is the depth she provides with her evocative rich descriptions that make this location and this period of history come to vibrant life. It is a time of societal flux, a novel that captures the extreme inequalities and class distinctions, the Victorian obsession with spiritualism, the position of women, new ideas and technologies. If you are in search of dark gothic novel, then this should fit the bill, it is well crafted and a compulsive murder mystery and so much more. Many thanks to Bloomsbury for an ARC.

Profile Image for Ceecee.
1,906 reviews1,435 followers
January 22, 2021
Agnes Darken is an artist, a creator of silhouettes which is a dying art with people now preferring daguerreotypes. Pearl Meers, ‘The White Sylph’ is an albino spirit guide and her half sister Myrtle West is a mesmerist. These three women connect in the most surprising of ways in this Victorian Gothic Murder Mystery set in Bath.

This is a fantastical read! Laura Purcell’s writing feels so authentically Victorian that it is as if it is a gothic mystery from the era. It has every element required for the genre. It is ghostly, has some supernatural sections, it’s a bit creepy, spine tingling and chilling. There are some very powerful images which create the prefect atmosphere with added deception and more than a dash or two of malevolence. It is a colourful and creative read so it captivates you in the powerful plot. The characters are really good and you have no idea who to trust but then you think you have it all sorted in your head and then another shock and twist comes along. Brilliant!

Overall, this is a compelling and enthralling read of high quality which I recommend to fans of the genre or who just like a really good mystery!

With thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing PLC for the arc in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Beverly.
784 reviews277 followers
September 5, 2021
Gothic horror doesn't get any better than Laura Purcell. She is a master at evoking the Victorian age, the sights, sounds and odors. Everything is dark and murky in candlelight and gaslight, as are her stories. Women are particularly vulnerable. They have little to no rights and are not taken seriously. It was easy for husbands and fathers to lock them up theoretically and literally.

The Shape of Darkness is a little different from her other stories in that women take hold of their own destinies, manipulating others for good or ill. Sister relationships are also delved into with no positive result.

I always learn something without being hit over the head with it too. Agnes Darken (great name!) is the main character; she makes her living by cutting out silhouettes or shades of sitters. These were very popular. People who couldn't afford to have a portrait painted or wanted a quick result liked these. Photography was not widespread, and in its infancy.
Profile Image for Caroline .
410 reviews558 followers
December 23, 2022

Silhouette art isn’t just art in this gaslamp mystery by Laura Purcell. It’s uncommon now, but in the Victorian era, when photography was rare and expensive, silhouette art was prized. The Shape of Darkness is about an unassuming silhouette artist, Agnes Darken, and how her creations suddenly turn sinister when they become connected to some local murders.

Having read Purcell’s The Silent Companions and The Poison Thread before this, I can say with confidence that she relies heavily on a formula. All three of these books revolve around something that defines its time. In The Silent Companions, it’s wooden “silent companion” figures. In The Poison Thread, it’s sewing and embroidery. Here, it’s silhouette artwork. Each book has an imperiled female protagonist, a dark Victorian setting, split story lines, some thrilling twists, and paranormal features. The Shape of Darkness is different from the other two, however, in its smaller cast and less exciting plot. The writing is top-notch as always, and the Victorian era is well-drawn, but for many reasons this book is my least favorite of the three.

Obvious early on is that the story is supposed to be spooky, yet it’s only oppressively gloomy. The sun doesn’t exist in this world. When action takes place outside, I automatically pictured an overcast sky. When action takes place inside, no matter which home, I saw a shadowy interior furnished with mahogany furniture, heavy drapes, and shabby throw rugs. Agnes is likable, but her world is so persistently dreary and lonely that it’s easy to see . Spookiness is held back by, in part, the silhouette art and in part by the split focus on Agnes and an eleven-year-old spirit medium named Pearl. Purcell has the ability to make something neutral threatening: The silent companions in the book of the same name are a beautiful illustration of this. They start out as the very definition of creepiness, then become outright terrifying as the story progresses. The silhouettes here never reach peak creepiness. The lives of Agnes and Pearl eventually intersect, but the split focus is instead split characterization of each. They’re reduced: Pearl to an albino circus exhibit and Agnes to a meek, frazzled mess, overly dependent on a male main character.

Unfortunately, the small cast of characters and limited settings makes this story feel really thin. There’s little physical movement, as events take place in either one of two homes or outside. While reading, I was constantly nagged by this confined feel. However, my biggest complaint concerns Purcell’s biggest weakness as a writer: Unlike many mystery authors, she doesn’t tend to insert big twists mid-story or throughout. There’s a little surprise earlier in this story, but everything--gasp-worthy revelations and twists--comes in the last few pages, all tangled up. The characters’ motivations aren’t totally understandable and the twists a little too twisty. I’m not sure all questions were answered.

On the other hand, although Purcell used her tried-and-true formula to write this, it can't be criticized as formulaic. For her, the formula is magic, as she manipulates it in such a way that her mysteries aren’t interchangeable. Most positively, she always writes strong red herrings, and although sometimes too twisty, her twists are at least unpredictable. They alone make her books worth reading. The Shape of Darkness is obvious on only one point: , but this isn’t one of the bigger revelations, and it doesn’t scream obvious.

This book is signature Purcell--undeniably her creation, a dark and beautifully written story that explores the nature of perception, but it lacks oomph and isn’t the right one to start with. I could have skipped it altogether. Nevertheless, she’s absolutely gifted, and even one of her weaker works is better than the best works by many mystery authors. The two stars is for the intelligence in this story and exquisite Rebecca-esque writing.
Profile Image for luce (tired and a little on edge).
1,417 reviews3,407 followers
August 27, 2021
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At first I thought that The Shape of Darkness was going to be a spoof of Gothic novels. The dialogues were corny, the two main characters are exceedingly frail, and the 'murder mystery' storyline struck me as somewhat theatrical (or perhaps I should say more suited to a film than a book). But I was willing to read on, thinking that these exaggerations were intentional and that Laura Purcell was lampooning Victorian ghost stories...but the more I read the more the narrative seemed to try to impress upon me that it was telling a 'serious' story. Having now finished this novel I can safely say that it was very clichéd and unimaginative, the setting of Bath is barely rendered, the two main characters sound like the same person, and the big 'twist' was extremely predictable (I mean, I can think of two films—one in 1999 and one in 2001—that have a similar reveal). Also, The Shape of Darkness is yet another book that proves my least likely person is the culprit theory.
Anyhow, Agnes seems to believe that she is being targeted after the very first death. Which is...okay. The plot must go on I guess.

Anyway, the story starts with Agnes a silhouette artist. She has yet to fully recover from an illness that struck her a few years prior the start of the novel. She lives in a nondescript house with her orphaned nephew and her elderly mother. Her past is 'mysterious' and she's clearly suffered more than on heartbreak. Her only friend happens to be a doctor who was married to her now deceased evil sister. Her few customers start turning up dead and Agnes worries that someone is after her.
Pearl is a medium who also happens to have an evil sister who forces to host seances. Pearl believes in the ghosts and there are scenes that seem to point to 'otherworldly' presences. Pearl is also, like Agnes, kind of sickly. The two characters in fact sound very much like the same person. They lack interiority and are mostly defined by how 'frail' and vulnerable they are. For quite awhile I thought that they were more or less the same age but I was surprised to discover that Pearl was 11 and Agnes in her 40s (yet they both sound like teenagers).

Agnes and Pearl end up 'finding' one another and Agnes convinces Pearl to help her contact her now deceased customers. We have two or three scenes in which Agnes is actually doing her job and we see Pearl doing two seances at the very beginning but after the 40% mark the narrative no longer focuses on these things.

The story takes a quite a few leaps in logic, there are a few too many convenient coincidences, the plot is dull, the characters uninspired. Although the story is set in Bath there are only a couple descriptions—a few sentences really—describing the city's architecture. Agnes shows a surprising lack of awareness towards her norms of her time and there were a few inconsistencies. For example, a couple of pages after we are told that Agnes' hands are swollen (possibly due to a combination of arthritis and chilblains) she does a silhouette for a customer. This requires her to use her fingers and I guarantee you that if her hands had truly been as the 'swollen lumps' we were told they were, she would not be able to move them very much, let alone being able to doe painstakingly controlled movements with her fingers. Instead we don’t even get a mention of her hands and fingers during this scene (we could have been told how difficult and painful it was to be using her hands when they were so swollen).

The story tries to be somewhat serious or creepy and yes, descriptions of Pearl's father—who's phossy jaw is rotting away—were not pleasant. But the narrative's 'supernatural' undertones and 'murder mystery' storyline were bland and galaxies away from being remotely scary (or even atmospheric).

Here are a few examples of why I did not like the author's writing: 'But it cannot be, not after all of these years', 'her heart flutters its wings inside her chest', the idea fills her with a sweet glow, 'in her face are those simmering, witchy eyes', 'her slender trunk' (this to describe a woman's figure), 'frightened whispers of her own conscience'.

Towards the end the story becomes so dramatic as to be frankly risible. There were a few scenes that were meant to inspire suspense or whatnot but they way they go down would have suited more a B movie.
If you liked it, fair enough, but I for one am glad I did not have to pay for my copy (the 'perks' of being on NetGalley).
Profile Image for Neale .
285 reviews125 followers
April 3, 2021
Agnes has cataracts, which for a woman in her profession makes things difficult at times. Agnes is a silhouette artist, a skilled profession requiring expert vision. Agnes is lucky to still be able to use her skills. Two years ago, she nearly died from Pneumonia and she still feels the effects of its sickly grip, her body never fully recovering.

Times are tough and Agnes is barely scraping by. The invention of the daguerreotype stealing away her customers, customers desperately needed to keep the wolves from her door. That is why she is upset that the man knocking at her door is not a customer but Sergeant Redmayne, a police officer. This upset only deepens when she learns from Redmayne that a customer of hers that she had been doing preliminary sketches for last week, has been murdered, his plump lips, that she remembered, smashed in along with the rest of his head. Redmayne leaves Agnes with the haunting words that apart from the killer, she may have been the last person to see him alive.

Mr Boyle was her first customer in months. And now with his death, Agnes will not receive payment for the commission she had almost completed. Agnes is worried not only for herself, but her mother and nephew, Cedric, who live with her and are in her care. With the battle to stave off penury becoming fiercer every day, Agnes despairs that this murder will affect her livelihood.

Once Redmayne has left, Agnes checks her large leather-bound book in which she keeps copies of her work. Turning to the back and the most recent customers, Agnes finds that Mr Boyle’s copy is creased. The outline of his head bent and crumpled, just like his corpse.

When Agnes delivers the work she has done to the widow, she finds that Mr Boyle's throat was cut. Why then did the killer smash his head in?

Pearl is known as “The White Sylph”, her albinism the prominent reason for the sobriquet. She is a spirit guide, and even though only eleven years of age, unlike all the charlatans and frauds many years older, Pearl’s powers are real. It is to Pearl that Mrs Boyle comes to speak to her murdered husband. The dead speak through Pearl, not to her, and after each séance Pearl is exhausted and none the wiser as to what the dead have revealed. All she knows is that Mr Boyle’s shade did not reveal his murderer.

When another of Agnes’s clients turns up dead, Agnes decides to pay Pearl a visit believing that a séance and being able to talk to the dead clients a legitimate way to solving this vexing, and fearful problem.

Seances are the perfect venue for suspense, fright and terror, and Purcell does not miss the opportunity. Purcell also keeps some of her cards hidden. There always seems to be information, vital information that will enlighten the reader, just out of grasp. Teasing little snippets of the dead sister every now and then. What happened to Agnes’ sister, Constance? What happened to Montague? Characters who are always on the periphery of the narrative but seem to be integral. The constant references to an accident.

This tactic is a sound one, only adding to the overall suspense and confusion. Is there a killer murdering Agnes’ clientele; or is there a more sinister, supernatural force at work?

I am not going to say more because I do believe for this book to have the impact that the author intends, the less the reader knows the better.

There is a noticeable pace to this story. The narrative is like a locomotive gradually gathering speed. As the story progresses, just like the locomotive, the suspense and fear gather force. And then the locomotive becomes a runaway. And just like a runaway locomotive, there is nothing you can do. However, the speed is not so great as to prevent a wicked twist at the end. This is a brilliant, riveting read, almost as good as “The Silent Companions” and my favorite read for the year so far.
Profile Image for Susan.
2,599 reviews599 followers
January 28, 2021
This historical novel is set in Victorian Bath, where Agnes Darken lives with her widowed mother and nephew, Cedric. Agnes is a silhouette artist in a time of change, when most of her customers are more interested in having a photographic portrait taken than having their outline snipped. Before long, we learn that not all is well with Agnes; she suffers frail health from an incident in her past, we discover a tale of tangled romance and financial hardship and her only real help comes from local doctor Simon, who was married to her sister, Constance.

As the book progresses, it becomes apparent that Agnes customers are meeting with untimely ends. She meets up with Myrtle West, a mesmerist, whose half-sister, Pearl, is a spirit guide. Although she does not believe in spiritualism, events make her desperate to discover why she is being linked to murder. She fears her business will fail and, despite Simon’s obvious interest, she is unwilling to accept marriage for the sake of security.

I really liked, “The Silent Companions,” a previous novel by Laura Purcell and, although I hadn’t read anything else by her until now, I was looking forward to this and was sad to find I did not enjoy it more than I did. I found the characters somewhat melodramatic and struggled to get to grips with the mystery element of the novel and the later coincidences. Although the setting was creepy; complete with séances and Pearl’s father, suffering silently off stage, I could not engage with, or feel enough sympathy, with the characters to make this work for me. There was too much faintness – legs giving way, spots in front of eyes, physical weakness. I much preferred the fiery Myrtle, for all her faults.

The author does manage to pull off a surprise with the ending, but, overall, I found this novel dragged a little. Rated 3.5 overall.
February 7, 2021
The Shape Of Darkness is a delightfully lightly-scary ghost story-slash-murder mystery, set in Victorian era Bath. Agnes suspects Pearl might be able to help her find the murderer that seems to be targeting her business crafting silhouettes, but (as she points out on page 212): “Ghosts, it seems, are contrary creatures. Not the oracles she had hoped for but imps, out to tantalise and tease.”

My full review of The Shape Of Darkness is up now on Keeping Up With The Penguins.
Profile Image for Auntie Terror.
411 reviews102 followers
October 26, 2021
What I like about Laura Purcell's books is that she doesn't give any final answers about what "really" happened once the story is over. As with The Corset, I wasn't quite as creeped out as with The Silent Companions - or as October might have required. But I adored the atmosphere of this former fashionable "spa" town, now in decline and haunted by bad memories, mediums and ghost hunters. The end was, in parts, heart-breaking, and in other parts maybe one spin and twist too many.
Still, I'd recommend this if you're looking for a gothic tale with a moderate amount of creepiness.
Profile Image for Veronique.
1,219 reviews165 followers
June 14, 2021

Why did it take me so long to finally read one of Purcell’s novels? Well, I absolutely loved this one!

The Shape of Darkness is a glorious gothic tale, set in the prime setting of Victorian Bath. Agnes is a silhouette artist and takes care of her mother and nephew. Pearl is an eleven-year old medium, and lives with her ailing father and half-sister. Purcell builds the picture of each’s life, layer by layer, and I was riveted by those spellbinding worlds. This woman and child come to join efforts when Agnes’s clients all start to be murdered...

Somehow, Purcell succeeds in leading you on this murder mystery and making you want to solve it with her characters. At the same time, there is a much darker undercurrent at hand and the author, while hinting at one ‘meaning’, is in fact completely misguiding you. Throughout the story, I found myself teetering between the realistic and fantastic, and expecting one denouement. Well, she got me! And by the way, how clever is that title with all its various meanings :O)
Profile Image for Indieflower.
319 reviews94 followers
April 27, 2021
An intriguing gothic mystery, atmospheric and twisty. Set in drizzly Victorian Bath, Agnes lives with her aging mother and young nephew, and ekes out a meagre living making paper silhouette portraits known as shades. Mysteriously, after leaving her premises, her clients have begun to meet violent ends, fearing for the reputation of her business, Agnes seeks rather unconventional help. I loved the characters and winced at the grim descriptions, particularly of a condition called "phossy jaw", the result of working with phosphorus (usually in the matchstick industry) without proper safety precautions, I'd never heard of it before. I wallowed gleefully in the sense of inevitable gothic doom as it built up to a cracking ending, another winner from Laura Purcell, 5 stars.
Profile Image for Helga.
842 reviews120 followers
March 24, 2021

Keep everywhere dark- shadows cannot haunt you in the dark...

There is a murderer loose in Bath and he is targeting the clients of a silhouette artist. As Agnes is worried of losing her livelihood if her clients turn up dead one by one, she decides to seek help from an eleven year old spirit medium known as The White Sylph.

The White Sylph can speak to the dead; but can she help her?
Why is the murderer hounding Agnes? Is he trying to send her a message?
Or is it all smoke and mirrors?
Profile Image for Emma.
2,392 reviews822 followers
December 2, 2020
Wonderful! I really do love stories centring around Victorian spiritualism plus this author is very talented. I found the story completely engrossing and the ending left me in awe. Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.
Profile Image for Dawn .
174 reviews25 followers
January 17, 2021
I read this within 48hrs – far quicker than I usually manage these days, but that’s because it's so compelling. The atmosphere just pours from the pages; a perfect example of the genre (gothic). It was a nice original touch to have such an unusual job for the main character too (silhouette artist). Wonderful!

I got this on Netgalley (I've been lucky lately!)
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,010 reviews1,400 followers
June 2, 2021
Actual rating 3.5/5 stars.

Agnes is a struggling silhouette artist in the early boom of photography. Her business soon proves to have hit more than just a financial crisis when a gentleman who sat for her is found murdered just hours later. A deadly blow to the head was the proven cause, which is shocking enough for Agnes to learn, but what she discovers next is even more so. When Agnes uncovers his silhouette she finds that it has been incorrectly stored causing the page to crinkle and the shape of the image to have altered. It has left the last image of the deceased gentleman with a similar indention in his head as the one he wears in death.

I really did enjoy this one. The three-star rating reflects my preference for more gothic elements to have occurred but I did appreciate the pervading gloomy atmosphere as well as the littered hints of paranormal elements. I really liked how the bloody mystery this focused on mingled with fantastic possibilities and Purcell detained information on either until right at the book's close.

The ending was by far my favourite aspect and I loved how deliciously twisted the reveals were. The dark focus was what I had desired to be presented throughout, so to have them appear when I thought all was pleasantly concluded was a real treat!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, Laura Purcell, and the publisher, Bloomsbury, for this opportunity.
Profile Image for Michelle.
1,205 reviews118 followers
November 12, 2020
The Shape of Darkness is another chilling gothic tale from Laura Purcell. I have read her previous books and this one seems to be more darker than her previous.
Set in the 1800’s in Bath, Agnes Darken is a Silhouette artist, cutting portraits out of paper. She lives with her mother and her nephew. But doing this has some disadvantages. Currently all the people she has made portraits for have ended up dead. She can’t understand why the killer is targeting her clients. The police do not suspect her. But she needs to find out why they are doing this. So, she goes and visits a medium to see if she can find answers from beyond the grave.
Laura Purcell is a master crafter of writing an atmospheric gothic tale set in Victorian times and The Shape of darkness is a good example of this. Especially when she visits Pearl the medium and has a seances. This is a chilling and creepy tale, with lots of secrets that will keep you gripped throughout.

Profile Image for Thebooktrail.
1,563 reviews283 followers
November 14, 2020
Book out in 2021 SET IN BATH

Oh if you love a gothic novel that contains mesmerism, ghosts, seances, and mystery built upon mystery then this is for you! Spooky and ethereal. I was totally immersed in the scene building, the glorious dark rooms, flickering candles and moving shadows. I felt as if I should have been wearing crinoline whilst reading it, with those cotton gloves on that the women used to wear. I had to go out once when reading it and was disappointed a hansom cab wasn't there for me. Oh and that ending! If I had been wearing those cotton gloves, I would have taken them off to ensure that everyone heard my applause for this author.
Profile Image for Vavita.
408 reviews30 followers
June 14, 2021
Not as great as The Silent Companions. Still amazingly entertaining and full of twists. Couldn’t put it down
Profile Image for Rachael.
168 reviews37 followers
February 4, 2021
At this point, Laura Purcell is an auto-buy author for me. The particular sort of Gothic Historical Fiction that she writes is just exactly my sort of fiction, and so this was one of the most anticipated releases of 2021 for me, and I have to say, she didn't disappoint.

There are a couple of interwoven storylines here that fit together wonderfully; that of our MC Agnes a struggling silhouette artist, and that of spiritual seances and mesmerism. I found both to be fascinating, along with some gruesome happenings in 1854 Bath which kept my attention throughout.

If you've enjoyed any of Purcell's previous novels then I think you'll enjoy this one too. It has all the same hallmarks, and I'll be recommending this one to anyone who will listen.

4 enthralling stars
Profile Image for Royce.
63 reviews50 followers
May 30, 2022
A perfect blend of goth + horror + historical fiction. The plot contains paranormal elements, and I found myself wondering and guessing whether what was going on was truly supernatural or psychological. Laura Purcell, in my opinion, is now one of the top writers of this genre.
Profile Image for Rachel.
351 reviews155 followers
October 29, 2021
If there’s one thing she understands about grief, it’s how it chokes: the fingers of death, squeezing the throats of the living.

A spooky, gothic Halloween weekend read! 🎃
Profile Image for Robin Stevens.
Author 49 books2,057 followers
December 14, 2020
Viciously spooky and, as always, with a horrible twist in the tale, this is one of my favourite Laura Purcell books yet, a brilliant cross between a murder mystery and a ghost story. (16+)

*Please note: this review is meant as a recommendation only. Please do not use it in any marketing material, online or in print, without asking permission from me first. Thank you!*
Profile Image for Brittany (hauntedbycandlelight).
236 reviews63 followers
January 25, 2022
This book was absolute perfection from Laura Purcell. I will read everything she has ever written.

Agnes is a struggling silhouette artist living in Bath. She has to work in order to keep her family afloat.

But something strange is happening… after her clients leave her house, they end up dead. Is this just a coincidence or is the killer purposely targeting her?

Desperate for answers Agnes goes against her doctors recommendation and seeks the help of a child psychic named Pearl.

Pearl is an adept medium for a girl of eleven. The spirits often take her over, leaving her sick and exhausted when she’s done entertaining her clients. She’s begun to exhibit signs of ectoplasm, fearing that one day the spirits will take over her body completely.

This story is tragic in one ways than one. But the fates of both Agnes and Pearl slowly weave together to create a disturbing picture. One I didn’t see coming.

I love gothic books. I love them so much for the eerie atmosphere, the Victorian settings, the image of a crumbling and dirty city. And I love the spiritualist vibes this one gave me.

I originally rated this a 4.5 but I’m changing the rating to a 5 because I can’t stop thinking about it.

Profile Image for Kimberly.
1,673 reviews2 followers
January 1, 2023
THE SHAPE OF DARKNESS, by Laura Purcell features Agnes, a silhouette artist in Victorian Bath. She's struggling to support her mother and nephew in a time where more modern devices are becoming popular. When her customers start dying shortly after their sittings with her, she breaks down and sees a child medium--the older sister clearly untrustworthy, but the younger appears to be genuine. This much we gather from the synopsis, but the book is so much deeper than that.

Just about every twist here caught me off guard, and every prediction I had turned out to be unfounded. The story was so intrinsically layered, that I couldn't focus on another while immersed in this world. Everything from the differences of social classes, medicinal practices, factory conditions, and horrible deaths that could wipe out an entire family in moments are brought to our attention. This is not a look at the glamour of the Victorian times, but of the lesser fortunate.

The mystery behind the murders, and young Peal--the child medium--were incredible to witness unfolding. There were times the information took me by surprise so quickly that I didn't have time to come up with a theory before the next "clue" came about.

This is one of the best I've read by the author so far, and I can't wait to read my next.

Profile Image for Rachael.
478 reviews84 followers
March 2, 2021
Agnes is a silhouette artist whose clients keep mysteriously dying. To find out what is happening, she seeks the help of a medium and ends up finding out more than she bargained for.
I loved reading this atmospheric, gothic novel. Victorian Bath was vividly brought to life. The detail about making silhouettes made me want to get one done of myself (as long as I don't get killed though). The mix of drama, mystery and the spiritual were done really well. I thought I had it all figured out but I was kept guessing until the very end with some ingenious twists. The denouement felt a bit rushed and that is why I can't give it the full five stars. I will definitely be checking out more by Laura Purcell in the future though.
Narrator notes: I listened to an audiobook narrated by Sophie Aldred. She was very good and she had a great singing voice when she was performing the songs that are part of the story.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this title. This was my honest review.
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