I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of A Dreadful Splendor by B. R. Myers. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In A Dreadful Splendor, Genevieve Timmons is trying to make ends meet by pretending to be a spiritualist in Victorian London. But when she makes a mistake and ends up behind bars, the last thing she expects is for a mysterious wealthy man to spring her from jail and have her brought to his home in the countryside. There, she meets him—Mr. Pemberton—and he tells her that he needs her help. His bride Audra died the night before their wedding, and he is determined to prove that she was murdered. If Genevieve can perform a seance to expose Audra’s killer, Mr. Pemberton will help her get the charges against her dropped. Genevieve agrees, but the more time she spends there, the more she starts to fear that there might really be something haunting this house.
Okay, if this isn’t inspired by Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, I’ll be shocked. The atmosphere is similarly eerie and Gothic, and the premise is almost the same. A young woman comes to a rich man’s home and finds a dark mystery surrounding the death of the man’s bride/wife. Sure, the details are different, but still. And this isn’t a criticism, because I quite like Rebecca and if this is an homage, it’s a pretty good one.
I enjoyed the addition of seances and possibly supernatural aspects to a typical Victorian manor house setting. It provided another layer of spookiness to what would otherwise just be a normal historical fiction scenario. And the tone of the book, from the things Genevieve observes to the gradually unfolding mystery, makes for a compelling read.
I liked the characters well enough, though some of the men were hard to keep track of for me. I knew who Pemberton was, but some of the men in his orbit—the family doctor, the lawyer, and the childhood friend of Audra—were not entirely distinct to me. I’m not sure why that is, other than maybe their personalities weren’t as well written as they could have been. That aside, I did like Genevieve, and seeing the mystery unfold through her eyes was entertaining. Myers made an interesting choice in the writing too, having Audra’s diary entries interspersed between Genevieve’s POV chapters, so that we know more than the protagonist for a lot of the story. I also found Audra, as we see her through the diary, to be an intriguing character, too.
As for Pemberton, he was less interesting to me. I think I needed to get to know him more to really feel much toward him. And as for his and Genevieve’s attraction toward each other, I think that seemed a little rushed. I didn’t quite buy it, but that’s just me; I tend to be less impressed with romantic subplots more and more these days.
However, the romance aside, there were some twists in this book that I didn’t see coming (though admittedly I rarely do). A couple twists were kind of confusing, but the one towards the end was great. And it led to some excellent suspense and action in what is a pretty memorable climax. The resolution after that wasn’t perfect for me, but I still enjoyed it.
In the end, A Dreadful Splendor is a book with a delightful atmosphere, a decent mystery, and some generally entertaining twists. The characters aren’t perfectly written all the time, and the pacing sometimes felt a little slow to me, but other parts of the book were excellent. I think my brain constantly comparing this novel to Rebecca didn’t do it any favors, though, but on its own, it’s quite a good read.
A Dreadful Splendor will be published on August 23rd, 2022!