Be careful what you wish for… it may just come true.
At The Mercury Theatre in London’s West End, rumours are circulating of a curse.
It is said that the lead actress Lilith has made a pact with Melpomene, the tragic muse of Greek mythology, to become the greatest actress to ever grace the stage. Suspicious of Lilith, the jealous wife of the theatre owner sends dresser Jenny to spy on her, and desperate for the money to help her family, Jenny agrees.
What Jenny finds is a woman as astonishing in her performance as she is provocative in nature. On stage, it’s as though Lilith is possessed by the characters she plays, yet off stage she is as tragic as the Muse who inspires her, and Jenny, sorry for her, befriends the troubled actress. But when strange events begin to take place around the theatre, Jenny wonders if the rumours are true, and fears that when the Muse comes calling for payment, the cost will be too high.
After her brother abandoned her and ran off to marry an actress, Jenny Wilcox finds herself in a precarious position, unable to look after the three younger siblings her brother left her to care for, so when she gets offered a job at The Mercury Theatre in London’s West End as the dresser for their new lead actress, Lilith, Jenny jumps at the chance, even after she is informed the job is part dresser, part spy. When Jenny gets to the theatre she finds Lilith to be intolerable, but she can’t deny her acting skills, Lilith seeming to embody the essence of any part she plays. Lilith claims her skill comes from her muse, Melpomene, the tragic muse of Greek mythology, but the more time Jenny spends at the theatre, and around Lilith herself, the more she starts to feel their is something wrong, the talks of dark deals, and fatal accidents occurring. When strange events begin to take place around the theatre, Jenny wonders if the rumours are true, and fears that when the Muse comes calling for payment, the cost will be too high.
The Whispering Muse is a delectable and atmospheric tale filled to the brim with darkness, danger and some truly brilliantly written characters. Jenny is our MC, with the story being told from her POV. She is someone desperate for help after her brother abandoned their family and set sail for America. So when Mrs Dyer comes calling with a proposition she finds it hard to turn down, especially when she offers not only pay, but the chance to better the lives of her younger siblings. She is sympathetic to Mrs Dyer, believing her similarly wounded to Jenny herself, so it doesn’t take much to convince her to be a part of her scheme to report on Lilith, the newest actress at the theatre. Jenny is someone I empathised with instantly, and though she isn’t wholly good, knew that she agreed to the deal for her family’s sake rather than her own. Lilith was a character that took me a little to warm up to. She comes across as incredibly entitled and obsessed with the theatre and making sure she outshone everyone else there. She is prickly and entitled, but deep down she is simply a woman who had to fight to get where she was now, and someone who did so without any fear of the consequences.
This is my first book by Purcell, but it’s safe to say it wont be my last. I’ve never quite felt as transported when reading historical gothic novels as I did with The Whispering Muse. Her atmospheric writing style wholly brings the theatre and the characters who inhabit it to life. Her use of the different parts of the book, each part focusing on a different play, was exceptionally done. Each part, and with it, each play seems to perfectly capture the atmosphere and feelings not only of the story but of the characters themselves, and the use of foreshadowing was just *chefs kiss.* I also enjoyed the mythological element. It was spooky without being outright fantasy, but had enough of the element to keep me on my toes, wondering whether the muse, Melpomene, was actually causing Liliths bizarre behaviours, or whether it was her obsession with needing to become a star so bright no one could ever forget her.
Obsession plays a large role in this book, and is shown through multiple lenses. We have Mrs Dyer, obsessed with bringing down Lilith and determined to do whatever it takes to ensure that happens, and Lilith herself who is so incredibly obsessed with not only performing, but ensuring that she goes out and gives the performance of a lifetime every time she steps on the stage, but both of these characters share one, large obsession, which brings them only darkness and danger and death. Purcell shows just how encompassing obsession can be and how, once we loose focus on it, our world can come crashing down around us, making us a mere shell of who we were before. Purcell blends the magical with the mundane brilliantly, ensuring were never quite sure who is behind the tragic goings on at the theatre, and leaving it open enough for our imaginations to run wild.
My one gripe was the ending, there was so much I adored about it. The build up was sublime, and the actual event was so incredibly well done but then it just… ended, and I felt like I needed more. I needed to see life after, what happened, and it just ended a little abruptly for me to feel completely satisfied. That being said, it didn’t detract from my overall love for this book. It was dark, incredibly creepy in parts, shocking and gory in others and wondrously gothic. If you’re looking for a good book to curl up with I can’t recommend this enough, it gripped me from the first page until the last & I will certainly be checking out the authors backlog.
I added this book to my TBR. Excellent review!
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Thank you! I hope you love it 😊
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