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The Shape of Darkness

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  560 ratings  ·  189 reviews
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. ...more
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published January 21st 2021 by Raven Books
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Average rating 4.14  · 
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 ·  560 ratings  ·  189 reviews

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Oct 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
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. Natur
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
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 ...more
Sep 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
Anna Luce
/ / / Read more reviews on my blog / / /


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 mor
Jan 28, 2021 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Jan 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
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!)
Sheree | Keeping Up With The Penguins
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.
Nov 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 he
Nov 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 wa
Dec 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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.
Robin Stevens
Dec 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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!*
Feb 01, 2021 rated it liked it
Another fantastic Victorian Gothic by Laura Purcell!

The Setting: Dreary, atmospheric Bath, England. Mid-Nineteenth century.

The Protagonists: Middle-aged silhouette artist, Agnes Darken. Caretaker to her elderly mother and young nephew, struggling to make ends meet; And 11-year old albino, Pearl, spirit medium and oppressed child.

The Plot: Murders and mysteries and ghosts everywhere!

The Opinion: I really liked it. It had similar elements to one of Purcell's previous novels' The Corset in that she
Angela Watt
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
It's rare for a book to stop me in my tracks, trap me in a chair, away from all else and where I keep saying 'just one more chapter, just one more chapter.' But 'The Shape of Darkness' by Laura Purcell did just that. And now it is over, I am sad, and wondering what could fill the Agnes shaped gap in my life.

Let's get it right up front that I love all the books Laura Purcell has written and so I was thrilled to find myself with an early copy of her latest book, courtesy of the author, publisher a
Beth Chats Books
Nov 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a deliciously wicked gothic tale. Set in the late 1800s in Bath, this story follows Agnes Darken, a silhouette artist who finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery that scandalises the city. Everyone who seems to pose for one of Agnes’s pieces starts to meet their untimely demise. Fearful that the murderer is trying to communicate with her, Agnes finds herself seeking answers from her dead relatives and former clients through the help of a medium, a 11 year old albino girl called Pearl ...more
Jan 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
Another deliciously dark tale from Laura Purcell, arguably her darkest yet. The ending threw up a few too many questions for my liking and Victorian era Bath didn’t come alive as much as I was hoping it would, but there were plenty of twists and turns, Gothic atmosphere and intriguing characters to keep even the most discerning reader entertained. ‘The Silent Companions ’ remains her best work to date, but this was still an absorbing, highly entertaining page-turner.
Jan 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
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 grue
Shelleyrae at Book'd Out
Set in Bath in 1854, The Shape of Darkness is a atmospheric historical novel from Leah Purcell.

Agnes Darken supports her ailing mother and orphaned nephew with her work as a silhouette artist, but with the growing popularity of the daguerreotypes, she’s finding it harder to attract clients. She is shocked when the local Sergeant calls on her to ask questions about a recent sitter who was brutally murdered shortly after their appointment, and worried that notoriety might attach to her business. H
Ali Kennedy
Feb 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Ok, I am going to put this out there, I adore Laura Purcell's books and waiting for this felt like a child waiting for Santa to arrive. The problem with that is that there is always that risk of being disappointed with a lump of coal rather than a shiny new bike. However, The Shape of Darkness was my shiny new bike.

This time Laura Purcell explores the role of the supernatural/spirit mediumship in Bath in the mid-1800s. Purcell clearly does her research as she sets the scene so vividly and uses t
Jan 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This was my most anticipated release of 2021. Laura Purcell is one of my favourite authors as many of you know. All of her books always have a creepy, gothic theme to them and always leave me feeling shaken. This is exactly what happened to me while reading this. It SHOOK me. Firstly, due to it being pretty twisted as some of the descriptive writing is pretty vivid as Laura doesn’t hold back on the real life horrors that happened around that period of history. Also I was just left with the bigge ...more
Fucking hell. Review to come 👻
Jan 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult
Brilliant! Laura Purcell is too good.

And those last 100 pages, so!! many!! plot!! twists!! just too good. Great look at guilt, insanity, class and trauma.
Aimee Walker Editorial
Jan 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Laura Purcell is one of my must-read authors so I was delighted to receive this ARC in exchange for an honest review. I wasn't disappointed; this had me gripped throughout. Victorian gothic at its best, creepy, full of atmosphere and intrigue. Purcell clearly does her research and comes up with a really unusual story every time, all based on actual historical context – this time, the fashion of mesmerism, the emergence of photography and the horrific consequences of working in match factories. I ...more
Lisa Sell
Sep 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a haunting story that will remain with me for some time. The sign of a great book, for me, is a plot that makes you think and sticks with you. The Shape of Darkness definitely does these things.

The characters are richly described, from the complex Agnes to the mysterious and fragile Pearl. Not a single character is there without reason. The interweaving of their lives is the most enjoyable part of this novel.

I loved the depictions of the era, houses, and streets. Laura Purcell has a tale
Nov 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Laura Purcell is rapidly growing to be one of my go to authors for quirky, twisty Gothic historical fiction and The Shape of Darkness does not disappoint, it is up there with her other books, including the much praised The Silent Companions and my own firm favourite The Corset.

The main protagonist is Agnes, a middle aged spinster, struggling to make a living as a silhouette artist, living with her is her querulous Mother and her beloved nephew Cedric. Recovering from illness, when two of her rec
Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum
In my years spent enjoying books, tv shows and movies set in the Victorian era (1837-1901) I can't believe I've never come across the art of shadow portraits and silhouette artists before. Popular from the mid 1700s, profiles of a person were painted or cut by hand from black cardboard in order to retain their likeness and often worn in lockets or mounted as gifts. They were a cheaper alternative to painted miniature portraits but began to fall out of fashion with the introduction of photography ...more
Lynn Williams
Jan 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
4.5 of 5 stars
My Five Word TL:DR Review : Laura Purcell Does It Again

The Shape of Darkness is Laura Purcell’s latest novel and is another fine display of her wonderful writing ability. I started with her Silent Companions novel and was blown away and consequently devour everything she writes.

As the title suggests, this story is dark indeed and is a perfect combination of Victorian superstition and fascination with the macabre. This is not the Bath of the R
Lynsey Walker
Feb 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
Some books just tick all the aesthetic boxes, and when those boxes are - the Victorian era, Bath, ghosts and mediums you know you are in for a treat.

Ms Purcell is a master of the slightly gothic, harassed women going mad novel. And this book is no exception. In my humble opinion this is the weakest of her novels, but her weakest is still miles better than what many modern ‘Gothic’ writers will ever produce (please see previous review of The Betrayals). This one just took a while to warm up is al
Feb 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
After reading The Silent Companions, I knew that Laura Purcell was a rare talent; however, for me, The Shape of Darkness cements Purcell’s position as one of the greatest authors of all time. This novel is nothing short of a Gothic masterpiece. Crackling with tension and eerily beautiful, this sublime novel is, quite simply, storytelling at its best.
Agnes is a silhouette artist trying to support her family after the death of her father. When several of her sitters turn up dead, she is brought into the realm of a child spiritualist medium. This was a cracking read with Purcell's usual hint at something 'other'. Brilliant twist at the end. ...more
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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

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