Twin sisters Keziah and Tilly Lovell are identical in every way, except that Tilly hasn’t grown a single inch since she was five. Coerced into promoting their father’s quack elixir as they tour the country fairgrounds, at the age of fifteen the girls are sold to a mysterious Italian known as ‘Captain’.
Theo is an orphan, raised by his grandfather, Lord Seabrook, a man who has a dark interest in anatomical freaks and other curiosities … particularly the human kind. Resenting his grandson for his mother’s death in childbirth, when Seabrook remarries and a new heir is produced, Theo is forced to leave home without a penny to his name.
Theo finds employment in Dr Summerwell’s Museum of Anatomy in London, and here he meets Captain and his theatrical ‘family’ of performers, freaks and outcasts.
But it is Theo’s fascination with Tilly and Keziah that will lead all of them into a dark web of deceits, exposing unthinkable secrets and threatening everything they know…
Publisher: Orenda Books
Format: Ebook, Audio and Hardback (22 June 2023)
Source: Ecopy to review
My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invite and to the publisher for the pdf to review.
The Fascination is an enthralling read, set during Victorian times in both London and on the Sussex coast. It features the darker side of life with freak shows, disturbing museum artefacts (of the human kind) and touches on a hedonistic lifestyle which leads to danger. The characterisation is excellent, with both main and supporting players being fully fleshed out and having their own distinctive place in the story.
Keziah and Tilly (Matilda) are 15 year old twins however Tilly stopped growing at five years old. She may be small in stature but has talents of her own, her beautiful singing voice which is both a blessing and a curse, as she sometimes attracts the wrong sort of attention.
Both girls had a difficult start in life; left motherless, and living with a drunken brute of a father who used his daughters not only as a distraction for theft but also as sales bait when trying to sell his ‘magic’ potions to the public. All a con of course. At one such fair, he angrily sells the girls to a stranger but not before they come into contact with Theo, a young man with a privileged life, who himself ends up being cast aside and also out of his home by his cruel grandfather, Lord Seabrook. His mother having died whilst in childbirth, the only person to show him any affection was his aged governess, Miss Miller. Theo’s connection to the girls, especially Keziah, borders on obsession. His desire to be a surgeon conflicts with his fascination for the grotesque, which is only fuelled when he begins work with disgraced Dr Summerwell at his Museum of Anatomy.
From the moment I started reading, I was captivated by Keziah, Tilly and Theo’s story. There are some characters here who are so deviant and evil that they make your blood boil, they are the catalyst for drama and tension. The mysterious and charismatic ‘Captain’ with his household of misfits had to face the very worst of human nature.
Told from the perspectives of both Keziah and Theo, The Fascination is an atmospheric story of secrets, deception, treachery and the macabre however there is also love, bravery, redemption and hope. I particularly liked the little surprise revelation at the end. I loved it and suspect it will be one of my favourite books of the year. I have bought previous books by Essie Fox which I have yet to read but if The Fascination is anything to go by, her Gothic novels are exceptional.
Essie Fox was born and raised in rural Herefordshire, which inspires much of her writing.
After studying English Literature at Sheffield University, she moved to London where she worked for the Telegraph Sunday Magazine, then the book publishers George Allen & Unwin – before becoming self-employed in the world of art and design.
Always an avid reader, Essie now spends her time writing historical gothic novels. Her debut, The Somnambulist, was shortlisted for the National Book Awards, and featured on Channel 4’s TV Book Club. The Last Days of Leda Grey, set in the early years of silent film, was selected as The Times Historical Book of the Month. Her latest novel, The Fascination is based in Victorian country fairgrounds, the glamour of the London theatres, and an Oxford Street museum full of morbid curiosities.
Essie is also the creator of the popular blog: The Virtual Victorian She has lectured on this era at the V&A, and the National Gallery in London.
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