The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe: A Review

After seeing the 1997 movie Titanic, I have always had a fascination with the sinking of this gigantic steel ship and the people it affected. I will never forget the night I saw the movie for the first time. I absolutely could not fall sleep! I don’t even think I was able to shut my eyes for mere seconds without seeing the deaths of all those people. I was just so distraught over the 1500 plus men, women and children that lost their lives when this supposed unsinkable ship struck an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the ocean.

Tragedy’s affects on the world have always interested me. It may be a morbid fascination and I cannot explain why I’m so captivated by it but I am. Maybe it’s the affect it has on the people closest to these tragedies; how their lives change and how things would have been different if devastation never fell on their doorstep. This strange fascination led me to a novel, The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe. The tragedy of the Titanic and its affects just scratch the service of disaster in this novel. What would happen if you could see devastation before it occurred? Would you be able to stop it or change it in anyway and if so would it make a difference? How would things turn out if you could influence the future? Not just in one possible outcome but in all possibilities.

The future is a fickle thing; something that can be changed by simply walking left instead of right. This particular effect is newly discovered by the Allston’s, a prominent Bostonian family during the early 1900s. Their struggle with tragedy and their ability to predict it seems to begin to drag them into a hell on earth like no other. Where pushing the use of opiates and meditation to the brink quickly becomes addiction and grief and where dealing with their family’s abilities causes them more pain instead of the expectation of comfort. Grief and pain hit Sibyl Allston the hardest. After her mother and sister die in the sinking of the Titanic, she must now run the household and through her father’s inability to communicate with anyone besides a parrot, she becomes head of the family as well. It is up to Sybil to take care of her younger brother’s future as well as to make sure the house continues to run smoothly. With this responsibility, worry and fear envelope her and when she realizes her abilities things only get worse. Sybil finds herself holding her brother’s fate in her hands with a more difficult decision regarding it every second. She learns quickly that the future is far from simple and changing it is far more impossible then she could have ever thought.

Katherine Howe turns what seems like another story of psychics and predictions into a thought provoking head scratcher. She takes what seems like an ordinary prominent family and makes them into so much more; something authentic and powerful and something a little bit strange. With the use of the family’s supernatural abilities, she is able to build on to the characters and enhance their family connection. There is also something in the way of Howe’s writing; something very few authors are able to accomplish. She gives the character’s so much feeling and emotion that they become real and the supernatural becomes real. She can take things about psychics; things most find absurd and unbelievable and write it in a way where Sybil’s abilities are more then believable, they are true. She mixes facts with fiction and creates a new truth. With Howe, her novels are more than mere stories they are the secrets of the Earth reveled. They are a peek at the things that exist within our own world but are hiding in plain sight; if one only knows where to look.

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