Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

Violet Willoughby doesn’t believe in ghosts. But they believe in her. After spending years participating in her mother’s elaborate ruse as a fraudulent medium, Violet is about as skeptical as they come in all matters supernatural. Now that she is being visited by a very persistent ghost, one who suffered a violent death, Violet can no longer ignore her unique ability. She must figure out what this ghost is trying to communicate, and quickly because the killer is still on the loose.

Afraid of ruining her chance to escape her mother’s scheming through an advantageous marriage, Violet must keep her ability secret. The only person who can help her is Colin, a friend she’s known since childhood, and whom she has grown to love. He understands the true Violet, but helping her on this path means they might never be together. Can Violet find a way to help this ghost without ruining her own chance at a future free of lies?

You can read an excerpt here.


I ended up liking the idea of this book much, much more than the actual story. As a reader who loves Victorian tales, murder mysteries, and ghost stories, this book should have been right up my alley, but I was sorely disappointed by the lack of character development and blatant plot contrivances. It’s just so frustrating to see such a fun idea trampled by poor execution.

First off, the ghosts – while the ghostly visitations did make for fun spooky visuals, they were also such ridiculously blatant acts of plot convenience that they made me choke. I have a real, huge logic problem with a ghost who is so deparate to avenger her murder that she haunts a teenage girl with visions of how she died, and yet when our heroine, Violet, asks said ghost repeatedly to point out her murderer (the ghost can’t speak, at least), the ghost refuses to do so. I mean, come on – at least give me a ghost who was killed without ever seeing her murderer’s face, or a ghost who points at so many people in a room that Violet can’t tell who exactly the ghost means, or a ghost who is so confused by being dead that she’s not making any sense at all. Instead we get a ghost who seems able to perfectly understand Violet, yet doles out telling Violet what happened to her for no good reason other than plot convenience, and who furthermore only contrives to appear at the most awkward possible moments for Violet. It was all a painfully transparent story ploy, and it drove me crazy.

In terms of solving the mystery of who murdered Violet’s ghost, the premise starts off with fun potential – it’s a locked room kind of mystery, with the murderer being  among the guests at the manor for a weekend party – and I do appreciate that Harvey threw suspicion on several suspects, but overall the investigation was hamstrung by being overly reliant on ghostly clues. I found that the few times Violet, with the help of her friend, Elizabeth, went sleuthing on their own – chasing down gossip and having to cross social lines to do so – I was caught up, but those scenes were few and far between.

And that leads me to another issue I had with this story – Violet’s utter lack of agency. She doesn’t really DO anything of her own accord – she’s pelted with ghostly messages, dragged hither and yon by her enthusiastic friend, and forced into social situations by her mother’s status, but Violet, as a leading lady, never took charge of her own destiny. I do understand the societal standards of Victorian times that hinder a young lady from taking charge, but I would at least have liked to see Violet show a little determination.

In terms of character work, the entire cast was fairly shallow. Violet isn’t unlikable, it’s just that she’s entirely bland – a girl who likes to read is not exactly earth-shatteringly original. Violet’s mother is a caricature of an Evil Mom, and I was especially frustrated by the utter lack of nuance that could have made her so much more interesting – if she’d just shown a few moments of honest affection for Violet, it could have heightened their painful relationship in such interesting ways. Colin, Violet’s love interest, is a bit too magnanimous, especially considering the fact that Violet is almost engaged to another man, and Lord Jasper, who could have been such a fun threatening or mysterious character, turns out to be painfully straightforward. There was such potential lurking in the corners of all of these character and their relationships, and yet never once was it realized. It was exceedingly frustrating.

And time and again, the parts of this story I found to be the most interesting were quickly relegated to the background, or breezily passed over. There is another ghost to this story, one who is much, much more frightening and interesting that Violet’ regular haunt, one who actually is a danger to Violet – and he essentially gets just a cameo. Similarly I was fascinated by the behind the scenes look at Violet’s Mom’s Spiritualist scam, and the many ways in which they managed their tricks and effects, but really we only get a few brief scenes of seances. I also liked Violet’s conflict over being forced to lie to everyone she cares about, to protect her mother’s secret and her own livelihood, but it never really paid off in any interesting kind of way – it just fizzles, and there is insta-forgiveness all around. I would have liked to see that blow up in fun ways.

In the end, I just couldn’t get past the Haunt of Convenience, or the way Violet’s Spiritualist skills magically appeared, without any real consequences, or the utterly blandness of the characters. I found myself skimming through the latter half of this book just to get to the end, and I can’t help but mourn the squandered potential. If you want to see paranormal investigations done right, check out Kimberly Derting or Kim Harrington – as for Haunting Violet, I’d say only those coming to this type of story for the very first time will enjoy it.

Byrt Grade: B/B-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Ruby Reads says:

I’ve admitted (repeatedly), that I like my fiction sprinkled with romance. What I haven’t said (and probably should) is that character development is a major necessary for me, too. If a book doesn’t have that, it won’t work for me. And this story doesn’t have it. Violet doesn’t have to make any choices; she never takes control of her life. All the changes that lead to her happy ending are the result of other people’s actions and/or decisions. Especially the change that has the greatest effect on her life. As I closed the back cover of Haunting Violet, I was left with a sense of dissatisfaction. Not because there isn’t a happy ending–there is–but because I wanted more from Violet’s story.

All Things Urban Fantasy says:

Haunting Violet is very different from The Drake Chronicles.  It has a more serious and mature tone. There is still quite a bit of humor sprinkled throughout, but it is more of a witty humor.

Publishers Weekly says:

Harvey (The Drake Chronicles) delivers a fun adventure in the form of a Victorian mystery novel that captures the feel (and the flaws) of the age.