The Shape of Darkness is the fourth book from Laura Purcell and it’s everything I wanted it to be. By that I mean it’s a Gothic delight with all Laura’s signature elements: a clever story that slowly unravels itself, a lead character you root for and a satisfying hit of the supernatural.
Opening sentence: It is the cocked hat that draws her to him: the way it arches above the barricade of toppers.
Agnes Darken and her silhouettes
Set in Victorian Bath, the first thing that struck me was the intriguing and tantalising way the story unravels itself. We’re given nuggets of info about the past, slowly, slowly.
Agnes Darken is our lead character and has a rather fascinating job – she is a silhouette artist. Expertly cutting people’s profiles into card – a skill that was called on less and less due to the advent of photography. Agnes is, therefore, finding things financially a struggle. She is unmarried and has to look after her mother and nephew too.
She also has an intriguing relationship with Dr. Simon Carfax – the details of which pull the story together and give you lightbulb moments as they are revealed.
We follow Agnes as she starts to notice a disturbing pattern among the people she cuts portraits for…
She is still faced with the question: why are her sitters dying?
Is there a murderer on the loose in Bath?
That is the question Agnes must find the answer to. And she decides to do so in an unorthodox method – through the help of Pearl, The White Sylph. She is an 11-year old spirit medium who speaks to the dead. Under the tutelage of her older half-sister, they make a living from this unique way of working.
The knowledge of the dead is useful beyond measure: that is why it is forbidden.
Agnes and Pearl’s lives intertwine and they attempt to help each other while trying to track down just who exactly has been killing Agnes’ sitters…
I loved the blend of supernatural ideas with the heady atmosphere of Victorian Bath. Plus, the plot felt restrained and tense, which added to the Gothic tone.
While reading this, it brought Things in Jars by Jess Kidd to mind, which I mean as the highest compliment, Things in Jars being a real favourite of mine. While I’m recommending books – if The Shape of Darkness sounds up your street, then check out Laura Purcell’s previous three novels: The Corset, The Silent Companions and Bone China as they are equally fiendish and addictive.