The Fascination; a beautifully dark historical exploration

Novels set in the Victorian era always capture my imagination, especially gothic novels. I love delving into the dark thematic layers set within a tense, simmering atmosphere that a good gothic novel brings. Exploring the sinister underbelly that preys on individuals deemed as ‘different’, The Fascination is brilliantly dark, brooding and character driven.

With the plot exploring villainy, kidnap and murder, this new novel by Essie Fox reminded me very much of the Victorian Sensation genre. I loved this as Sensation fiction really intrigues me and I class Lady Audley’s Secret, one of the most famous novels in the genre as an all time favourite of mine. Hence The Fascination, which is full of layers captivated me. It also really moved me.

The Fascination is an emotive narrative as it focuses on twin sisters Keziah and Tilly Lovell. The twins are identical in every way except for one stark difference; Keziah has grown to full adult height, yet Tilly has failed to grow in height since she was five years-old. Loosing their mother at a young age, they are left in the care of their morally lax father who is often drunk, a con man and at times abusive. Even though in his own emotionally-stunted way I believe Keziah and Tilly’s father loves them, the way in which he exploits his daughters and their difference is truly shocking. Yet then he sells the girls to a stranger when they are teenagers! Don’t worry, that is not a spoiler.

Essie Fox

The novel is also told from the point of view of Theo, who has his own emotive story. Never knowing his father and following the death of his mother in childbirth, Theo is raised by his maternal grandfather Lord Seabrook. Yet Lord Seabrook is cold, harsh and resentful towards his grandson. He also has perverse tastes and has an uncomfortably dark interest in individuals deemed as different.

Theo’s life gradually becomes entwined in the lives of the twins and their adopted artistic and theatrical family which includes what the Victorians deemed as ‘freaks.’ This is especially after Theo is cast out by his grandfather and disinherited. Tilly is particularly attracted to Theo, and likewise Theo is truly fascinated by the sisters. Yet as Tilly theatrically excels though her gift of singing, she finds herself in the spotlight, which she adores. Yet Theo and Keziah soon realise that there is a dark, deceitful cost to Tilly’s stardom.

The Fascination is powerful and so compelling. With some of the characters based on real life people in history, it is an emotional novel that truly celebrates authenticity and difference. I particularly loved Keziah’s story, which is a coming of age story. The use of Keziah discovering and reading Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Women of Pleasure to portray her sexual awakening really made me smile. Like Keziah but over a century later, I, along with my friends discovered this 18th century book as a teenager; and like Keziah, we were shocked and amused by its content.

The Fascination is full of emotional twists, even right to the very end. And I really mean the very end. It is this thought provoking twist that revealed to me an element of the story that haunted me throughout the narrative. Essie Fox is a writing genius in the subtle, succinct manner she reveals this key element of the plot.

If you are a fan of historical fiction rich in detail with an array of compelling characters full of depth, I urge you to read The Fascination. Released on 22 June by Orenda Books, it is available now.

To read the reviews from my fellow book bloggers, please see below.

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