“The London Séance Society” Didn’t Quite Keep Me Spellbound

Like many readers who loved Sarah Penner’s debut, The Lost Apothecary, I couldn’t wait to see what she’d do next. And the premise for her sophomore novel centering on a society that performs séances? Yes, please!

So, when I started seeing a lot of readers say they found the book disappointing, I really hoped I wouldn’t agree. There’s a lot of anticipation for a book like this, and that can leave some readers feeling let down no matter how good an author’s second book is. Alas, after reading The London Séance Society I do definitely understand why so many readers felt this way (myself among them). Let’s dig in to why this one didn’t quite work for me. But first, like always, we’ll start with the positives!

What I Liked

The setup of this book is great! I love that it centers on a young woman who’s trying to learn to do séances for reasons other than a natural interest or curiosity. The dynamic between her and her late sister also feels like an incredibly believable sibling relationship, and I love how Lenna (and the reader) learns more about Evie throughout the book. They are both complicated and interesting characters, which I appreciate.

The central mystery was definitely the high point for me, keeping me curious and invested to learn what happened. I did feel at a certain point like I’d more or less guessed it, but I wasn’t entirely correct and therefore wasn’t disappointed by too much predictability.

I also really enjoyed the séance scenes themselves. They felt perfectly detailed and mysterious, and a little bit disturbing, which to me seemed just the right tone to strike in a book like this one.

What I Didn’t Like

Honestly the thing that most kept me from loving this book was the way it’s written in dual POVs. One of the perspectives is in first person and the other in a close third person. I just could not figure out why they were different or what was gained from getting the “I” from Mr. Morley and not from Lenna, who is more ostensibly our protagonist. This bothered me throughout the book, particularly in later chapters for reasons I won’t go into here because of possible spoilers. It distracted from the story in a way that made it really hard for me to sink in and just enjoy the book, and I truly would love to know if anyone who read this has a theory for why this narrative choice was made.

Beyond that key issue with storytelling, I can’t quite put a finger on why the book fell short. I truly think being bothered the entire time by the way the alternating POVs were handled was a lot of it for me personally as a reader.

In all, I did enjoy many aspects of The London Séance Society and will still be excited to see what Penner does next. I wish this book had been more of a home run for me personally, but they can’t all be.


10 thoughts on ““The London Séance Society” Didn’t Quite Keep Me Spellbound

  1. I had the same issue with the book you had! Only I couldn’t continue reading because of that. It just didn’t work for me at all. Hopefully your next read is better~

  2. Excellent review, Amanda. I can’t imagine having 2 POVs from first and third person, especially as the main protagonist is in the third. I will have to see if that bogs it down for me.

  3. I think the changes in the voices might have bothered me as well. That said, there was one book I read – I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon – where she did this, and it was extremely effective. In the parts about the real Anastasia it was told in first person; in the parts about Anna Anderson (the woman who claimed to be the real Anastasia, but we know she wasn’t) was done in third person. That made perfect sense to me.

    • That definitely sounds like a use case where it makes sense to have the differing views! I think t would have bothered me less if I could see a clear reason for it, but I just couldn’t.

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