FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book. This is my honest opinion.
This was the most atmospheric, immersive book I’ve read all year. It held a Gothic overtone throughout, which lent a creepy harmony to compliment the Victorian melody of the tale set in Hurstwell Pauper Lunatic Asylum. The musical aspects of the story played well against the madness within. It was a beautifully intricate tale that was exquisitely discordant in all the right places. I was mesmerized from the early pages and even felt myself going a bit mad right alongside Vivienne in certain moments.
There were plenty of shocking twists that kept me guessing and flipping pages quickly. Even the one thing I thought I foresaw from early on was flipped on its head eventually, which delighted me to no end. This was one of those books that had me wishing I had no other obligations than to read, for I was easily lost to its charms and dramatics and the trap that was Hurstwell. If not for work and some post-Wuhan-Virus symptoms I’m still dealing with, I would have easily swallowed this story whole in a single day rather than having it dragged out over a month’s time. I suspect my first reread of it will be one large, satisfying gulp.
The leading lady, Vivienne, was one of the best unreliable narrators I’ve ever read. I cherished her point of view for that very reason. This very much felt like a psychological thriller in certain respects, Vivienne’s unreliability being the key one and the setting of Hurstwell Pauper Lunatic Asylum being another. I would love many, many more books like this one—ones that keep me off-kilter, on the edge of my seat, and deliciously unsettled until the final page.
Bridget was quite the conundrum for me. I truly wanted to love her. In some ways, I absolutely did. She was thoughtful, kind, encouraging… many traits I try to apply to my own persona. Yet, in a couple of other respects, she felt estranged from her own upbeat, inspirational personality.
In the first, she stated, about melancholia (depression) that it “doesn’t matter what you believe about the Almighty or anything else. You can’t climb out. No one can pull you out. [The wave of it] just has to roll over you till it passes, then you stand up and keep going. Until the next one.”
I disagreed with this outlook, because my personal experience has shown me that God does still perform miracles where depression and melancholia are concerned (as well as in other areas of life). I have lived in the midst of debilitating depression that was as dark as a moonless night. If not for God Almighty, I would have drowned in it. Yet, He held my face above the waves and eventually drew me up out of the stormy waters entirely, setting my feet back on the Rock of Salvation (Jesus Christ) and showing me that even in those dire circumstances I faced, I could be content and joyful and happy rather than depressed and sinking in melancholia. Jesus once said that we should “be of good cheer,” because He has “overcome the world” (John 16:33 NKJ). Overcoming the world includes beating depression—Jesus beat it! There is hope that God can help a person overcome their melancholia and depression, because our God is still a God of miracles; He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 NKJ), which means if He did miracles in Bible times, He’ll still do miracles today. I stand as a witness to many already in my life and am always on the lookout for more, because where God is, His miracles tend to follow; one just has to look for them. God can and does help people beat depression. I know; I’ve lived that experience; He beat my depression—without aid of any medication—and it has not returned in over a decade. I am living proof of Jesus’s words in John 16:33 and of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:11-12, in which he states that contentment may be found no matter how much or little we have or which situation we find ourselves in. My depression has been replaced by true contentment, thanks in full to God Almighty and His compassionate, healing touch, and that keeps joy in my heart—and the darkness of depression out.
The second of the outlooks that contradicted Bridget’s core personality was that she implied at least twice that Apostle Paul was her husband with wording such as “me dearest Paul” and by speaking of him with the fondness of a beloved spouse rather than with the brotherly respect due an apostle of Jesus Christ. It felt awkward and disrespectful that Bridget had spoken of Apostle Paul in such a way that Vivienne mistook him for Bridget’s personal friend—and I, as a reader, mistook him for her husband. And rightly so, as she referred to her actual husband as “my Michael”—not so dissimilarly as to how she referenced Paul.
I rather enjoyed Bridget’s positivity in such a depraved setting as the asylum, so there were definitely perks about this character. I feel like she would have been my favorite if she were more consistent in her belief in these lines: “… nothing happens without the Almighty’s say-so” and “Alls I know is the dark has lasted far too long here.”
Her backstory did lend itself perfectly to melancholia, but I was unable to follow the logic that she’d find sudden optimism in an asylum with absolutely zero healing taking place at that point. I would have liked to see either more consistency in her perspective or a more clarified explanation for her healing from melancholia in such a dreary, darkness-laden place.
Another small oddity of the book was that among the famous musicians quoted to begin each chapter, there were seven quotes included by the leading lady of the book. Now, she was entirely fictional, so this felt like the leading lady quoting herself rather than using another classic quote from a real historical person, such as Beethoven or Rossini.
The final thing I didn’t like was that the only noted historical figure in the book had his name altered simply because the author didn’t want to use his true middle name of “Kill,” as noted in the Author’s Note. One cannot help the name one is saddled with, but to accurately represent history, it’s crucial that one’s name is recorded correctly. This was very disappointing.
Those few negatives about this book were mere hiccups in the midst of an excellent symphony of heartache and loss, broken people and healing souls, and music and hope all strung together into the beautiful tapestry of a journey well traveled for the sake of following wherever God led, however unusual the destination.
The switches upon switches upon switches in this book was one of my favorite things, and they made this quite the memorable story. The romance in the latter chapters that especially had to do with those switches won back the fifth star in my rating. I also adored how exquisitely the music and faith threads were so naturally woven into the story and characters, creating such beautiful life to this story.
I would love another book in this series (this book is the sequel to A Midnight Dance, even though they were marketed as stand-alones, as they have three or four characters in common). I would love to find out what happens to Bridget and Rosamond and how they continue to blossom in the light of God’s movement in their lives.
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