Their rise in popularity in the local Spiritualist community marks only the beginning of their adventures. If dealing with pressure from their controlling Papa isn’t enough, Izzie and Clara must protect Clara’s twin, Billy, from his abuse and care for their youngest sister, Euphora. At the same time, other men start noticing the attractive young women. Then a sudden decision made by Izzie pulls the sisters apart and leads them both into dark, shocking situations as they struggle to gain independence and find each other again. Revealing any more would dampen the pleasures of this unpredictable, wildly entertaining tale.
The historical atmosphere intriguingly combines small-town quaintness and mid-19th century fads and trends – “reform dress,” suffrage meetings, institutes for water-cure therapy – with a sobering look at women’s experiences. Paul doesn’t draw back from depicting the adult circumstances her sympathetic heroines face, and their stories have added poignancy because their viewpoints remain appropriate to their ages while their eyes open to the world’s realities.
Delightful period idioms make the background even more convincing, and although the novel is almost 600 pages long, the pacing never drags. The editing and production are top-notch, too. This is a fabulous read for fans of American women’s history.
The Spirit Room was self-published under the Wasteland Press imprint in 2013 ($19.95, trade pb, 587pp, or $2.99 on Kindle). This review first appeared in the Historical Novel Society's indie review section in August 2014; as part of the guidelines, reviewers are asked to comment on layout and production quality.
This novel was a personal purchase which had sat on my shelf for about a year until I picked it up on a whim last month and got drawn into the story immediately. I volunteered to write up a review for it, which indie managing editor Helen Hollick accepted, and she also made it an Editors' Choice title for the quarter. I should also add that despite the characters' ages, this is definitely adult fiction.