The Dark Lantern by Gerri Brightwell

March 3, 2008
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The Dark Lantern
Gerri Brightwell

Crown
3/03/08
Hardcover/321 pages
ISBN: 0307395340
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". . . Upstairs, Downstairs drawn with darker and richer colors and more subtle shading."

The Dark Lantern: Mystery and intrigue above and below stairs in Victorian England.

Jane Wilbred arrives in London to work for Robert and Mina Bentley, newly returned from Paris to attend the deathbed of Robert’s mother. His brother, Henry, is on his way from India. The orphaned Jane has lived her life in the country and is ill equipped for what she finds when she begins service in the Bentley home. She does not begin well, knocking on the front door, forging a letter and breaking a dish within her first few hours. She is out of her depth with her fellow servants who have secrets of their own.

Robert trained in anthropometry in Paris and is determined to convince Scotland Yard that his method of measuring people is more accurate and efficacious than dactylography or fingerprinting. He feels the information is more readily catalogued and quicker to retrieve—and no such system exists for fingerprinting. While he works to convince the Troup Committee of his claims, Mina does her best to put the house in order before her own secrets catch up with her. Into this welter of domestic and personal strife, comes Henry Bentley’s widowed bride, carrying her own secrets.

It isn’t long before Mina discovers Jane’s forged letter and coerces her into spying on the other servants. Eventually Jane helps Mina to keep Robert from finding out that his wife isn’t who he believes her to be.

Victorian England is clearly captivating in Gerri Brightwell’s The Dark Lantern. This is Upstairs, Downstairs drawn with darker and richer colors and more subtle shading. If the scientific and political aspects aren’t enthralling enough, there is the constant whirl of dangerous currents above and below stairs. Nothing is as it seems. Every page yields a new and exciting revelation. Despite the filth and drudgery and social restrictions, The Dark Lantern fuses fantasy with reality, resulting in a rich, dark concoction of science and domestic intrigue. Brightwell’s cunning mingling of politics, science and the Victorian caste system is brilliant. Her writing infuses the work with impressive dimensions.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell

 

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