Monday, April 8, 2013

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

Alyxandra Harvey's 2011 Young Adult novel takes place in Victorian Era England when mediums were all the rage and were also mostly charlatans and con-artists. Violet grows up on the edge of poverty, helping her mother, one of those fake spiritualists, fleece grieving relatives of their cash.  Understandably therefore, Violet doesn't believe in ghosts until one day around her sixteenth year she starts to see and even hear real spirits.  Her abilities draw her into a mystery surrounding the death of another teenage girl, while she, her mother, and their other companions Colin and Marjorie are ambitiously trying to pull off their most elaborate con yet at the country estate of Lord Jasper.

I have to say up front that I was pretty disappointed by this book.  After reading The Drake Chronicles, I had developed a pretty significant author crush on Alyxandra Harvey.  She has a great sense of humor and a real knack for creating characters it's easy to love, and stories that are equal part action/adventure and romantic swooniness.  So my expectations for this book were pretty darn high which probably helped make the disappointment that much greater.  My major criticisms:

1) A boring heroine:  I've discovered, having also now read Harvey's most recent offering Stolen Away, that she actually has a propensity towards rather blah heroines who she then gives a spunky best friend.  I think she is trying to make her heroines as average as possible to give them relatability. Unfortunately, the sassy best friends tend to steal the spotlight and be more fun then the main character.  Case in point Solange and Lucy from the Drake Chronicles - Lucy was by far the more interesting and fun character for me and I think for a lot of readers.  Lucy's romance was also more compelling.  In Haunting Violet we get a rather ho-hum heroine with a relatively lukewarm romance while the more interesting best friend Elizabeth gets especially short-shrift.  Violet is likeable enough but she's not terribly complex  - I would have preferred her to be more morally ambiguous considering her upbringing.
2) The evil mother:  Violet's mother could have been quite interesting.  Without giving too much away, Violet's mother was thrust, by misfortune, on to the streets, pregnant and without friends or family.  She has been forced to make her way in the world and she could have very easily been made into a rather complex and interesting character and to play a rather larger role in the drama.  At one point Harvey seems to be making her more sympathetic when she begs Violet's father to take her saying "How will I feed her?" and I started getting interested and then Harvey abruptly does an about face and takes the character into no-return evil land. Which is just less interesting...
3) The mystery: The mystery at the heart of the book ends up being developed rather weakly and also ends up having a rather boring solution.
4) Subdued humor:  Harvey's strengths are her humor and light-hearted, snarky banter.  Probably because this is a period piece, the humor was pretty underwhelming.

In the end, It was just okay.  It had potential, particularly in the area of developing more complex characters, but it never really got close to that potential.  Not nearly as compulsive and propulsive a read as the Drake Chronicle books.  2 out of 5 stars...It was okay.

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