The Mesmerist By Barbara Ewing.
Early nineteenth-century London sees the controversial rise of the practise of Mesmerism with it's genuine practitioners - and it's fraudulent chancers. Miss Cordelia Preston, a beautiful, ageing, out-of-work actress, terrified of returning to the poverty of her childhood, and with disturbing secrets to hide, suddenly emerges as a Lady Phreno-Mesmerist.
In her candle-lit Bloomsbury basement, with it's mirrors and red velvet flowers, it's shining glass stars, she finds herself advising young women on marriage and, inadvertently, on the matter that must, of course, never be mentioned - the wedding night. Popular and rich - her success seems unstoppable - especially after she meets the enigmatic Monsieur Roland, student of the famous Dr Mesmer, and learns even more about her talent and the art of Mesmerism.
But success is fragile when you have a past filled with secrets and loss. On a wintry moonlit night a body is found in Bloomsbury Square: in a crowded coroner's court, love, hate, murder and revenge are dissected under the full glare of an extremely unreliable popular press and, suddenly, what began as an audacious subterfuge erupts into a volcanic scandal as Cordelia's past is revealed, bringing not only heartache but terror - and a cloaked figure who waits in the dark and shadowy London streets
.... from the inner, front cover.
What a warm, heartfelt, well researched novel - with characters that will have you crying both tears of laughter as well as sorrow, you really do wish things go well for them.
Split into three part. The first of which, though rather slow and overlong, sets the scene by introducing Cordelia 'Cordie' Preston and her good friend/fellow actress Amaryllis 'Rillie' Spoons who, at 45, are finding it difficult to find work as actresses. Then, like her aunt before her, Cordie finds she has a gift for Mesmerism which sees them rise above poverty to live in Bloomsbury Square.
The second part which starts with the murder of someone from Cordie's past and ends with the loss of her 'respectability' (Cordelia understood 'She had been undone by the gentle intricacies of the wedding night') in the Coroner's Court is very telling - a great social commentary on how people, and in particular, woman of that time were viewed and, generally, treat, as second class citizens, if not, as in the case of actresses, even lower.
The third, concluding, part goes onto deal with the return of Cordie, Rillie, Mrs. Spoon and Regina back to their roots until an unexpected offer from the 'new world,' where the case of Cordelia Preston, Mesmerist has been closely followed, comes their way.
Very touching and moving, not to mention, in places, extremely funny, almost to the point of being farcical - after all who could ever forget Mrs. Fortune who 'regularly made a big pot of stew, added to it nightly: (until) if actors became ill it was time to throw it out and start again' or the 'demented' Mrs. Spoon who instead of dressing when company arrives, takes her clothes off or, indeed Rillie, herself who 'arrived with her chamberpot, took in the situation at once and pounded the pot on to ...'. I can't help but hope there may be a sequel which will tell of their further adventures.
MY RATING: 4 out of a possible 5.