First Lines: The Metropolitan Theater simmered with the heat of more than a thousand bodies packed together in red velvet chairs. My nose itched from the lingering scent of cigarette smoke wafting off the gentlemen’s coats–a burning odor that added to the sensation that we were all seated inside a beautiful oven, waiting to be broiled.
This was on my to-read shelf from the moment I found out Cat Winters was coming out with another book. Her previous (and debut) novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, was such an amazing historical yet slightly paranormal book. I just knew this was going to be something I wanted to read.
Olivia is a head-strong, independent girl in an age where women are supposed to be docile and quiet. It’s 1900, Oregon, and Olivia is breaking all the rules. As a budding suffragist, she is everything her father doesn’t want her to be. In an effort to “cure” her of this rebellion, her father hires a stage mesmerist to hypnotize her into the kind of girl he wants her to be. Instead, the mysterious hypnotist Henri Reverie, gives Olivia a terrible gift: she can see the world the way it truly is while being unable to explain what she sees. Normal people suddenly look like devils to Olivia. More determined than ever to speak her mind, Olivia is drawn into a tenuous relationship with the hypnotist while she struggles to fight for women’s rights. Can Olivia ever be the person she wants to be?
This is perfect for reading right about now. It starts on Halloween night and continues through about the first week of November. I was thrilled when I saw that because it gave me one more thing to connect to.
One thing I love about Winters’s writing is that she can so easily make me feel like I’m actually in that time period. It’s not just about the dresses or the slang or the setting. She’s also able to weave in the subtleties of the time. Like the way men treat women. The way women act. These are so minor, yet they can completely change the tone of the story. You almost don’t realize how much they impact until they aren’t there.
I thought the plot was pretty intriguing, especially with Olivia at the helm. As the headstrong, rebellious lead, Olivia saw things that other people might have overlooked. She saw these subtleties I previously mentioned. And the more people tried to change her, the more she fought back. That was so interesting, especially when you throw a hypnotist into the mix to play with her head. Even one as friendly as Henri.
Speaking of, it is incredibly rare to find a YA book that uses hypnosis as a huge plot point. And forget about finding a historical novel that focuses on it. I loved that this was so willing to take a chance on this. It’s so different! I love when historical fictions break away from the typical historical novels and dig into something new.
The only issue that I found with the novel was that I thought the hypnosis angle sometimes overshadowed other parts of the story. So much of the story should have been about how strong Livie was, but I felt like everything just kept coming back to the hypnosis. Everyone seemed to be obsessed with it. I just wanted to see other things in the story.
Still, it was a delightful and somewhat spooky read, and I definitely want to read what Cat Winters churns out next.