Victorian by Jordan Elizabeth

Victorian by Jordan ElizabethCombining the all-consuming intensity of teenage concerns with the tropes of classic ghost stories, Elizabeth amplifies the tension of each.

Outwardly different yet each having their own reason for hiding, Celeste and Weronika volunteer at the local Victorian Fair. At first it seems a haven from their problems; but as the summer progresses, working for the fair brings its own set of issues, both mundane and supernatural. Issues that will force Celeste and Weronika to face the ghosts of their pasts and others.

The novel shifts point of view between Celeste and Weronika. While this offers – on the surface – two quite different narratives, Elizabeth builds each upon a shared foundation of statis. In addition to providing an unconscious link to support the overt connection of their burgeoning friendship, this echoes the behaviour loop displayed by the ghosts that haunt the area.

This parallel between the protagonist’s problems and those of the ghosts continues throughout the arc, with efforts to resolve hauntings providing some escape from mundane traumas.

With significant threads of relationships, friendships, siblings, and parental approval, this novel has a decided young adult tone. However, both the traumas that have scarred the protagonists and the causes of the ghostly infestations would not be out of place in either literary or horror fiction, and thus offer plenty for readers who no longer feel the intensities of teenage life.

Although Elizabeth skilfully shifts between protagonists and types of challenge, balancing new revelation with new mystery, readers might feel a few things are hidden for narrative rather than character reasons. In particular, Celeste’s reaction to seeing a ghost makes sense in light of later description of her childhood, but her failure to think of those reasons when Weronika starts talking about ghosts the first time they meet does not.

While both protagonists are shaped by a horrific event in their past, they handle it differently: Celeste has withdrawn into herself, becoming quiet and caring to the point of privileging her family’s interests above her own; Weronika vacillates between histrionics and hidden rebellion, rejecting her parent’s desires without effectively challenging them. This contrast in coping mechanisms, and the resulting difference in how they develop as the story progresses prevents their journeys to self-acceptance seeming overly repetitious.

As befits a story built around pretence, the supporting cast mostly display one or two strong traits rather than a nuanced complexity, creating a balladic simplicity.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I recommend it to readers seeking a traditional ghost narrative reframed from a young adult perspective.

I received a free copy from the author in exchange for a fair review.

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