Haunted by a crushing fear of death, a young Victorian woman discovers the secret of eternal youth—she must surrender her life to attain it, and steal heartbeats to keep it.
In 1860 Surrey, a young woman has only one occupation: to marry. Senza Fyne is beautiful, intelligent, and lacks neither wealth nor connections. Finding a husband shouldn’t be difficult, not when she has her entire life before her. But it’s not life that preoccupies her thoughts. It’s death—and that shadowy spectre haunts her every step. So does Mr. Knell. Heart-thumpingly attractive, obviously eligible—he’d be her perfect match if only he wasn’t so macabre. All his talk about death, all that teasing about knowing how to avoid it…
When her mother arranges a courtship with another man, Senza is desperate for escape from a dull prescripted destiny. Impulsively, she takes Knell up on his offer. He casts a spell that frees her from the cruelty of time and the threat of death—but at a steep price. In order to maintain eternal youth, she must feed on the heartbeats of others.
It’s a little bit Jane Austen, a little bit Edgar Allen Poe, and a whole lot of stealing heartbeats in order to stay young and beautiful forever. From the posh London season to the back alleys of Whitechapel, across the Channel, across the Pond, across the seas of Time… How far will Senza Fyne go to avoid Death?
I’d participated in the promotional blitz for this book and the author’s notes on the research she’d done about English High Society intrigued me enough to make me eager to read it. It was refreshing to read about a young woman, brought up to embrace and embody the virtues of polite society, dedicated to upholding its foundations even while questioning her place within it all. The constant tide of spunky, opinionated, feisty, untamed rebels without a clue was getting pretty tiresome. It was invigorating, if not damn near innovative, to have a protagonist who knew their role and believed in what they were doing, even if they didn’t understand or agree with it all. The wrinkle comes, as always, when life takes a few unexpected turns and you find yourself with a unique yet unbelievable opportunity to escape your troubles and do things you’d never dreamed possible.
If you’re of a certain age the first thing that’ll come to mind reading this book is the Highlander franchise. The parallels are unmistakable- lead character doomed to an vagabond existence due to their static nature as the world changes and evolves while they remain on the outside always looking in. Senza comes to grips with this early on after making her pact with her enigmatic benefactor, Knell, quickly creating a new persona and withdrawing from close contact with even her family.
As this is Victorian Era England, we get the obligatory visit to Whitechapel and encounter its most infamous resident, Jack the Ripper. Wish I could say I didn’t see it coming.
Her trek through the years has her constantly questioning the wisdom of her decision, and never more so than when she finally does fall for someone only for tragedy to shatter their blossoming happiness. Her foray to the Americas during the Roaring Twenties leads to an encounter that forces her to confront the depths of her existence and leaves this immutable creature irrevocably changed.
An interesting touch was the way the author used passages from Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death to set the stage for each section of the book, helping to frame the context of the next phase of Senza’s journey.
Where it let me down was in two areas. One was Senza’s constant reliance on Knell to tell her when to move on. Granted in many ways she’d retain the emotional maturity of a nineteen year old girl, but she’d become savvy enough over the years to know when it was time to move on- whether from ennui or simply wearing out her welcome. After transforming her, Knell’s presence until the end of the book is strictly relegated to telling her where to go next.
The second was the ending. I won’t give it away, but I was very disappointed with it. To have gone through and endured everything Senza had existed through only to have none of it matter in the end was, quite frankly, a cop out. What was the purpose of it all when there were no consequences for her actions? Again, for those of a certain age all I’ll say is the ending is along the lines of Vanilla Sky & St. Elsewhere. Maybe this is a symptom of what the YA/NA genres are all about- having your cake and eating it too- but it’s not something that should continue.
Overall, despite its flaws, I liked the book both more and less than I expected to. Hard to get too upset about that.