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An extraordinary, page-turning Gothic mystery set in the wilds of the Norfolk Fens from the BSFA-shortlisted author. London, 1901. After the death of Queen Victoria the city heaves with the uncanny and the eerie. Séances are held and the dead are called upon from darker realms. Samuel Moncrieff, recovering from a recent tragedy of his own, meets Helena Walton-Cisneros, one o An extraordinary, page-turning Gothic mystery set in the wilds of the Norfolk Fens from the BSFA-shortlisted author. London, 1901. After the death of Queen Victoria the city heaves with the uncanny and the eerie. Séances are held and the dead are called upon from darker realms. Samuel Moncrieff, recovering from a recent tragedy of his own, meets Helena Walton-Cisneros, one of London’s most reputed mediums. But Helena is not what she seems and she’s enlisted by the elusive Lady Matthews to solve a twenty-year-old mystery: the disappearance of her three stepdaughters who vanished without a trace on the Norfolk Fens. But the Fens are a liminal land, where folk tales and dark magic still linger. With locals that speak of devilmen and catatonic children found on the Broads, Helena finds the answer to the mystery leads back to where it started: Samuel Moncrieff.


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An extraordinary, page-turning Gothic mystery set in the wilds of the Norfolk Fens from the BSFA-shortlisted author. London, 1901. After the death of Queen Victoria the city heaves with the uncanny and the eerie. Séances are held and the dead are called upon from darker realms. Samuel Moncrieff, recovering from a recent tragedy of his own, meets Helena Walton-Cisneros, one o An extraordinary, page-turning Gothic mystery set in the wilds of the Norfolk Fens from the BSFA-shortlisted author. London, 1901. After the death of Queen Victoria the city heaves with the uncanny and the eerie. Séances are held and the dead are called upon from darker realms. Samuel Moncrieff, recovering from a recent tragedy of his own, meets Helena Walton-Cisneros, one of London’s most reputed mediums. But Helena is not what she seems and she’s enlisted by the elusive Lady Matthews to solve a twenty-year-old mystery: the disappearance of her three stepdaughters who vanished without a trace on the Norfolk Fens. But the Fens are a liminal land, where folk tales and dark magic still linger. With locals that speak of devilmen and catatonic children found on the Broads, Helena finds the answer to the mystery leads back to where it started: Samuel Moncrieff.

30 review for The Golden Key

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    2.5* I so anticipated liking this book. The blurb on the back cover pulled me in with the promise of all of my favourite things...seances, disappearing girls, strong female characters, folk tales, dark magic and all set in the liminal space of the Fens, one of my favourite places in the world. I had such high hopes but I soon realised that I wasn'tenjoying the reading experience very much as I found it almost impossible to retain any of the story. I was re-reading passages several times and when 2.5* I so anticipated liking this book. The blurb on the back cover pulled me in with the promise of all of my favourite things...seances, disappearing girls, strong female characters, folk tales, dark magic and all set in the liminal space of the Fens, one of my favourite places in the world. I had such high hopes but I soon realised that I wasn'tenjoying the reading experience very much as I found it almost impossible to retain any of the story. I was re-reading passages several times and when I picked up the book again I could not remember what had happened. There is a line between otherworldly and vagueness and I felt that this book fell on the side of opaqueness in its attempt to deliver the otherworldly. I found it all so frustrating. I do think the story improved once Helena and Eliza's investigations collided but the unresolved ending left a feeling of disatisfaction. I must say that some parts were wonderfully written - some of the passages about the Fens reminded me of Graham Swift's Waterland which is a very high bar to reach. I am really sad to only give The Golden Key 2.5* - maybe a reread at a later date will make it all a bit clearer for me.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Liz Barnsley

    I really enjoyed The Golden Key during it's opening chapters, atmospheric and cleverly written but after about the halfway mark I felt it got a little muddled. It's a bit jump around in its plotting and whilst I engaged with the characters I didn't feel I got to know them enough over the course of the story. I loved the gothic aspects of it and the beautifully descriptive Victorian era but overall it was a bit messy and the ending was a bit of a let down Will be interested to see what the author I really enjoyed The Golden Key during it's opening chapters, atmospheric and cleverly written but after about the halfway mark I felt it got a little muddled. It's a bit jump around in its plotting and whilst I engaged with the characters I didn't feel I got to know them enough over the course of the story. I loved the gothic aspects of it and the beautifully descriptive Victorian era but overall it was a bit messy and the ending was a bit of a let down Will be interested to see what the author does next. Some brilliant ideas rocking around there but execution didn't quite hit the mark for me.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Runalong

    Very good gothic thriller with some wonderful use of atmosphere; smart plotting and a great look at the role and erasure of women in the period. Also wonderfully eerie and perfect for stormy nights Full review - https://www.runalongtheshelves.net/bl... Very good gothic thriller with some wonderful use of atmosphere; smart plotting and a great look at the role and erasure of women in the period. Also wonderfully eerie and perfect for stormy nights Full review - https://www.runalongtheshelves.net/bl...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Manon

    I really didn't enjoy this book. The first chapter was promising, but I couldn't get into it after that. I have no clue what happened for 350 pages long.

  5. 4 out of 5

    booksofallkinds

    *I voluntarily reviewed this book from the Publisher. An atmospheric historical tale that will give you the chills and make you want to don your detective hat and figure out the mystery. It's 1901 and England has become fascinated with the afterworld. Séances, ghostly spirits, and haunting nightmares are commonplace and everyone is searching for answers from the other side. Lady Matthews is determined to uncover the truth about a past tragedy and hires someone with special qualities for the job. *I voluntarily reviewed this book from the Publisher. An atmospheric historical tale that will give you the chills and make you want to don your detective hat and figure out the mystery. It's 1901 and England has become fascinated with the afterworld. Séances, ghostly spirits, and haunting nightmares are commonplace and everyone is searching for answers from the other side. Lady Matthews is determined to uncover the truth about a past tragedy and hires someone with special qualities for the job. While at the same time, a young man with his own tragic past cannot stop the feeling that he is being haunted by a place; a place he isn't sure he has ever visited before, yet knows well. I enjoyed THE GOLDEN KEY by Marian Womack but it definitely has an unusual flow to it which may not appeal to everyone. The characters are intriguing, never fully disclosing everything, and I enjoyed the tense and creepy tension that lingers on each page. ​Overall, an enjoyable read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    WS_BOOKCLUB

    This book made me feel dumb. Not in a “these concepts are really smart and I just need to do some research to understand what’s happening” way, but in a “What did I miss? Did I accidentally skip a chapter” way. It was incredibly disjointed. I kept having to go back to see if I’d missed something. I hadn’t. It just jumped forward in large chunks, and switched points of view at really odd times. It might have been intentional, meant to confuse the reader. It definitely worked. The writing had an ee This book made me feel dumb. Not in a “these concepts are really smart and I just need to do some research to understand what’s happening” way, but in a “What did I miss? Did I accidentally skip a chapter” way. It was incredibly disjointed. I kept having to go back to see if I’d missed something. I hadn’t. It just jumped forward in large chunks, and switched points of view at really odd times. It might have been intentional, meant to confuse the reader. It definitely worked. The writing had an eerie, gothic feel to it, which I really liked. I felt like there was always a mystery waiting to be solved, and I enjoyed the tension felt throughout the book. The question of who Sam was and where he came from kept me guessing. That was part of the reason the abrupt shifts in story-line annoyed me so much: every time I started to get invested in what was going on, it would jump to another (seemingly unrelated) part of the story. Once the story got going, I enjoyed it. It took too long to get there, though, and I ended up not enjoying it as much as I expected to. I give this book a resounding “eh.” It’s not bad, it’s just not great. https://wittyandsarcasticbookclub.hom...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Helen Carolan

    I had such high hopes for this one. Sounded like it was right up my street. An eerie Norfolk setting a mysterious manor house and the main players all having secrets and a link to the mysterious house. Oh and I forgot to mention it's one of my fave genres.Gothic. Sadly it didn't do too much for me. Very disjointed and confusing. Such a shame as it did have the odd moment when something fab occured. Sadly there weren't enough of those moments. Disappointing.

  8. 5 out of 5

    The Coycaterpillar Reads

    Had to DNF @25% I couldn't connect with the characters or discriptions. A real pity.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kal ★ Reader Voracious

    Part supernatural, part detective story with Gothic vibes? Yes please. I received a finished copy the publisher, Titan Books, in exchange for my honest review. This has not affected my opinions. Blog | Twitter | Pinterest Part supernatural, part detective story with Gothic vibes? Yes please. I received a finished copy the publisher, Titan Books, in exchange for my honest review. This has not affected my opinions. Blog | Twitter | Pinterest

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I had to DNF this one at 64 pages... I tried to read more but I just couldn’t get into it. The writing seems very stilted and there is no real sense of a plot... maybe it gets better further on but I was literally forcing myself to keep reading when I had no desire to.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sammie

    You can read my full review on my blog, The Writerly Way, here. Many thanks to Titan Books for a finished copy in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. I’m a very simple woman. I see Gothic and a hint of the supernatural and I am there. The Golden Key sounds like a perfect combination of ghosts and superstition and haunted buildings … and it was a good combination of these things, but it left some things to be desired. The Golden Key is a haunting, atmospheric Gothic tale that artfully blend You can read my full review on my blog, The Writerly Way, here. Many thanks to Titan Books for a finished copy in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. I’m a very simple woman. I see Gothic and a hint of the supernatural and I am there. The Golden Key sounds like a perfect combination of ghosts and superstition and haunted buildings … and it was a good combination of these things, but it left some things to be desired. The Golden Key is a haunting, atmospheric Gothic tale that artfully blends the real and the supernatural, with a mystery that grabbed me by the collar and dragged me along. While I enjoyed the book, I think it’s going to demand a niche readership, because the writing style and the way the plot unfolds isn’t for everyone. My Thoughts: - This book is a prime example of great Gothic writing … which means you have to really like Gothic writing in order to enjoy this book. That’s sort of the nasty caveat here, since it’s such a particular style, and this book feels much more like a classic Gothic novel. Which can be good or bad depending on how you feel about Gothic literature. There were plenty of elements that I could see not working for some readers, but they mostly all clicked well for me. I’ve always been a fan of classical Gothic, and this elicited the same feelings, but with a writing style that was more accessible and easier to read and breeze through. - The mystery in this book is a slow burn that starts murky and unfurls little by little. This isn’t a book that’s going to immediately grab you and force you to read. But about a quarter of the way through, the mystery really revved up, and I was hooked. There were so many twists and turns and new information added that I actually had no proper guesses as to what the resolution would be until right before it happened. I was definitely kept guessing! - This book got dark fast and oh my gosh, I loved it so. It started with an air of death: Samuel has lost someone he cares about, and the country has lost a queen. There’s just this general haze of loss. From there, it takes some dark, twisting turns with seances, a spooky haunted manor, missing children, etc. There’s a pervasive atmosphere of dark foreboding that always had me waiting for the next monster lurking in the darkness. - The women in this are fantastic, daring to be scientific and smart in a world that deems it unfit for their gender. In case you hadn’t noticed, phew, yes, there is a lot of misogyny in this. It doesn’t even have the decency to be subtle. It’s just blatant, in your face, and often called out (to no avail, of course, given the time period, but still). These women are unapologetically witty and good at what they do, especially Helena, who we spend the most time with. She knows exactly what her job requires, and she’s willing to do what she needs in order to solve the mystery and get results. I really enjoyed seeing all the different ways she played the game. - You have to really pay attention when reading this, because there are brilliant little nuggets thrown in everywhere. I like digging around the narrative for little Easter eggs, and I feel very accomplished when I find them. This book is actually chock full of little treasures like that, and I appreciated how expertly it was done. Things that seemed insignificant in the beginning had new meaning by the middle of the book, as new facts came to light. - The descriptions in this book are so vivid and lush that I felt right there along with the characters, traipsing around the countryside. The setting was one reason I was attracted to this book, and it’s really brought to life in these pages: the beauty and danger of the Fen, the eeriness of the abandoned ruins, the large expanse of space where anyone can get lost. It’s not written in purple prose, and I didn’t feel like the story was overly bogged down with descriptions to the detriment of the actual plot, but they painted a lovely picture of the Fens just the same. Sticking Points: - The story is told in a very meandering way, where it jumps back and forth between characters and points of view, and it takes a long time for them all to meet up and fully make sense. This was a little hit or miss for me. In part, I thought it did a really good job of ramping up the mystery. We spend the most time with Helena, who is actively working on the mystery, and I adored her, so I was fine with that. The problem was that it was, at times, hard to follow, very choppy to keep head hopping, and sometimes hard to know when in the timeline things are taking place. It also takes a while for the points of view to meet up, so in the meantime, it feels very random without enough draw. - The writing is very dry and felt distant, so I didn’t get a very good connection with any of the characters. On Samuel’s part, I’m sure this is on purpose, as at least part of the mystery revolves around him. I was a little annoyed by this at first, but after getting a little into the story, I liked this, because I realized he was an unreliable narrator (I would’ve known if I’d, like, read the blurb? But pffft, reading things). So the distance with his character allowed him to remain more of an enigma. I did feel like I knew more about Eliza and Helena, but it was all impersonal facts about the character rather than feeling like I knew them intimately, like their thoughts and hopes and dreams. Which was a shame, because these women were fantastic, and I definitely wanted to know them on a more personal level. - The ending is very open, and for me, that’s my least favorite sort of ending. This is for sure a me thing. I know some people like open endings, and they enjoy the what-ifs and the wondering and being able to imagine for themselves. But not me, no. I don’t mind a vague ending, but I prefer some sort of definitive structure to the ending, where I know what happened and why and to whom. That’s just my personal reading preference, but that meant that this ending felt a bit disappointing to me, because I was so invested in the mystery and didn’t feel like it was satisfactorily wrapped. No, I didn’t expect to get all the answers (because that would defeat the eerie supernatural atmosphere), but it was a little too open for me personally and without enough concrete answers.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Roxana

    I...have no idea what happened in this confusing mess of a book. Atmospheric? Absolutely. Coherent? Uhhhhh...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sferg

    I was really disappointed in this book. The premise was so intriguing but the storyline was disjointed & scattered. Almost as if they wrote the book in a hurry without filling developing the story I was really disappointed in this book. The premise was so intriguing but the storyline was disjointed & scattered. Almost as if they wrote the book in a hurry without filling developing the story

  14. 4 out of 5

    Paperbacks

    The Golden Key is a wonderful debut novel by this author and I’m grateful to Titan books for providing me with copy for review, historical is a genre that I rarely get the opportunity to read and with the addition of some wonderful fantasy elements this book ticked a lot of boxes for me. The setting as the blurb explains, is in a Britain shortly after the loss of Queen Victoria, the seance scene has skyrocketed along with the naysayers, what is without doubt though, is a number of missing childr The Golden Key is a wonderful debut novel by this author and I’m grateful to Titan books for providing me with copy for review, historical is a genre that I rarely get the opportunity to read and with the addition of some wonderful fantasy elements this book ticked a lot of boxes for me. The setting as the blurb explains, is in a Britain shortly after the loss of Queen Victoria, the seance scene has skyrocketed along with the naysayers, what is without doubt though, is a number of missing children in the Norfolk Fens which has led to a seemingly unsolvable mystery. I found that out of all the major characters I found I connected with Helena the most and we do travel with her for the majority of the book. The time setting has the suffragette movement at the forefront and it was great to have both Helena and then Eliza carrying out typically male dominated roles for the time. It was the lengths that Helena went to in order to both pursue and preserve a career that she was clearly extraordinary at which weighed heavily for me, the self sabotage she had to undertake in order to not upset the delicate sensibilities of the men around her which probably rang true for many women of the time This book is perfectly balanced with both it’s need to debunk the seance culture which rocked the time period and the idea that there is indeed true spiritualism. What comes between is an imaginative blurring of the edges which leaves you questioning, no matter which side of the argument you fall on, whether the other in fact has a point. As a great lover of fairies and fairy stories, I have always approached this kind of mythology with an open mind and that not every fairy will be of the Tinkerbell persuasion. This more trickster ideal is the level in which The Golden Key is pitched at, the darker side of fringe realms which cross over to our own more than we realise. The story moves slowly and methodically as Helena collects and collates the evidence, the story cleverly punctuated with news clippings of the curtain being pulled back on the Seance culture, her journey bringing her to both the obvious conclusions and some that you, as a reader, have to work for with her. I have to admit that I didn’t realise there was a connection to an earlier children’s book called The Golden Key which appears to be the source for many of the revelations within this story. It’s certainly one for me to look into. As the investigation continues so does the sense of foreboding and even as the pieces start to fall into place, there are still more questions than answers. As a reader I don’t mind this kind of open ended style, and for a book that focuses on opening the characters eyes to alternate ideas, it felt right in the context. Where I did struggle was with the fact that the book felt somewhat flighty at times, I think this is down to incredibly long chapters that chop and change frequently with character focus and locations. This is of course reader preference but I felt the story would have felt more grounded and easier to keep track of if even there was a more frequent use of scene breaks or shorter chapters. I found The Golden Key to be a thoughtful read that asks you to challenge your preconceptions about spiritualism and realism and I give this book 4*

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kym's Open Books

    The writing style in this book is very unique and took me quite awhile to get used to. It took a bit more time for me to read and absorb the information. There are many dark twists with seances, ghosts, a spooky house and missing kids. I feel like this should’ve grabbed my attention more but it didn’t. I also had a hard time following POV as they were changing a lot and sometimes I wouldn’t notice the change. I loved reading about Helena and her challenging female roles and I especially loved re The writing style in this book is very unique and took me quite awhile to get used to. It took a bit more time for me to read and absorb the information. There are many dark twists with seances, ghosts, a spooky house and missing kids. I feel like this should’ve grabbed my attention more but it didn’t. I also had a hard time following POV as they were changing a lot and sometimes I wouldn’t notice the change. I loved reading about Helena and her challenging female roles and I especially loved reading the descriptions of Fen and its surroundings. What a beautiful place that must be. It ended with ambiguity which is hard for me to grasp. I like a good, solid ending that is not up to interpretation, it left me with too many questions! I recommend this book for those who love paranormal and vague mysteries. Thank you Titan Books for the book in exchange for an honest review.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bethany

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3. If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be 'fragmented'. The premise and mood of the book are intriguing and should've been completely up my street, and I found the characters well drawn if not fully tangible. Most frustratingly, I think there was a good plot in there somewhere. The execution is just incredibly muddled. I feel like there are too many POVs and threads to keep track of. It was satisfying to see some of them come together, but there was never 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3. If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be 'fragmented'. The premise and mood of the book are intriguing and should've been completely up my street, and I found the characters well drawn if not fully tangible. Most frustratingly, I think there was a good plot in there somewhere. The execution is just incredibly muddled. I feel like there are too many POVs and threads to keep track of. It was satisfying to see some of them come together, but there was never a moment where the narrative really clicked and everything became clear. Womack unveils important revelations (particularly with respect to Sam's true nature, and other supernatural elements) in such a sudden, jolting way that it feels like you've missed a step going downstairs. I got the sense that Womack wanted to keep us guessing as to whether the girls' disappearance was supernatural or not, but it so obviously was that the forced uncertainty made everything more confusing. I still wouldn't call this a bad book, because there are some interesting characters and a plot with a lot of potential underneath it all, and the prose is often very beautiful. However, it is needlessly confusing, moves in fits and starts, and altogether could be much better.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Van Damme

    Hi and welcome to my review of The Golden Key! Folk tales and dark magic, seances and mediums, a twenty-year-old mystery waiting to be solved AND a pretty cover?! This little blogger was all in! The Golden Key delivers all these elements, and does it with verve. Reminiscent of Rebecca and the novels of Laura Purcell, The Golden Key starts out with the kind of Gothic gloom I simply adore; the prose marvellous, detailed but not overly so; the story incredibly atmospheric, dripping with a brooding t Hi and welcome to my review of The Golden Key! Folk tales and dark magic, seances and mediums, a twenty-year-old mystery waiting to be solved AND a pretty cover?! This little blogger was all in! The Golden Key delivers all these elements, and does it with verve. Reminiscent of Rebecca and the novels of Laura Purcell, The Golden Key starts out with the kind of Gothic gloom I simply adore; the prose marvellous, detailed but not overly so; the story incredibly atmospheric, dripping with a brooding tension, shrouded in mystery… Although, perhaps a little too much mystery, and perhaps a little too much information as well… I often state that “there’s a lot going on” in a book, and I usually mean that as a compliment. There IS a whole lot going on in The Golden Key, but in this case, I had some problems with that. I was suffering from scatter-brain and brain fog when I read this, so perhaps it’s just me and I shouldn’t even mention it, but I just couldn’t properly process all the names, events and details, and by the time I’d turned that final page, I was more than a little confused. On the other hand, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I do feel it’s intentional. One of the minor characters is the author George MacDonald and he states that he hates having to explain his stories, that stories, like nature, and the world itself, do not have to have a fixed meaning, that meanings are unsettled and borders are porous and each person is free to create their own interpretations. I’m not sure if MacDonald actually said anything of the kind, or these words are entirely Ms Womack’s work, but pondering what to write, what to tell you about The Golden Key, I thought back to those words, and started wondering if that might be Ms Womack’s intention: to rouse the reader’s consciousness, to force us to think and come up with our own explanations. For me The Golden Key was a bit of a bumpy read with ups and downs and I don’t think I was the ideal reader for this book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Andover Library

    This is a book that needs time dedicated to it. Some books I find I can pick up and put down in the small gaps of time I find to squeeze in extra reading, The Golden Key wasn’t one of those books. I read the first couple of chapters in the bit-by-bit style but I was loosing track of the characters and getting a little lost. However once I sat down and gave this book the time it needed I found myself wrapped up in this hugely atmospheric and eerie tale. The writing is quite fluid and the jump betw This is a book that needs time dedicated to it. Some books I find I can pick up and put down in the small gaps of time I find to squeeze in extra reading, The Golden Key wasn’t one of those books. I read the first couple of chapters in the bit-by-bit style but I was loosing track of the characters and getting a little lost. However once I sat down and gave this book the time it needed I found myself wrapped up in this hugely atmospheric and eerie tale. The writing is quite fluid and the jump between characters isn’t always immediately obvious and can take a paragraph or two to pick up on, however for this story I found that worked as it added to the slightly uncertain, mysterious feel of the book. If you enjoy stories about paranormal activity and don’t need all the answers this is a book you’ll enjoy. The cover is also absolutely gorgeous, invoking the reeds of the Norfolk fens in sweeping golden stalks.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Sweeney

    Review originally posted on The Bibliophile Chronicles. When I first read the synopsis of The Golden Key (and saw that stunning cover) I was completely intrigued. The story follows Samuel-Montcrieff, a young man recovering from a recent tragedy and residing in Victorian London. He encounters a lady named Helena Walton-Cisneros, who finds herself caught up in solving the mystery of three young women who disappeared in the Norfolk Fens twenty years ago - but all is not as it seems, and the Fens are Review originally posted on The Bibliophile Chronicles. When I first read the synopsis of The Golden Key (and saw that stunning cover) I was completely intrigued. The story follows Samuel-Montcrieff, a young man recovering from a recent tragedy and residing in Victorian London. He encounters a lady named Helena Walton-Cisneros, who finds herself caught up in solving the mystery of three young women who disappeared in the Norfolk Fens twenty years ago - but all is not as it seems, and the Fens are a remote and wild place.  I really enjoyed this blend of Gothic horror and mystery story. It was such a fascinating tale and I was completely captivated by Womack's beautiful writing style. Her writing was so vivid and evoked a really strong sense of setting in the Norfolk Fens. This strange wild place really came alive within the story. Womack's writing is almost lyrical and it was so easy to just become completely absorbed in the story. The Golden Key is multi-layered tale and I enjoyed the pacing of the story. I did feel the story jumped around a little between people and what was going on, which did make some aspects a little difficult to follow but overall I found this to be an incredibly engaging story. I thought the characters were well fleshed out and the slightly eerie/ sense of other world-ness of the Fens really created a sense of atmosphere within the story.  If you're a fan of gripping mystery stories with a touch of the Gothic supernatural, this will be a book you absolutely adore. The Golden Key is an impressive debut, and I can't wait to see what Marian Womack writes next.  

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dan Bassett

    1901, Queen Victoria has passed away and England is in mourning and caught up in the craze of seances and contacting those they have lost. Helena Walton is known for her uncanny ability to find things that are lost and is hired by Lady Matthews to solve a twenty year old mystery of her three stepdaughters who vanished on the Fens of Norfolk. However, the Fens are the land of dark magic, folk lore and the devil himself.... Why have children been disappearing? Why have some been found catatonic? And 1901, Queen Victoria has passed away and England is in mourning and caught up in the craze of seances and contacting those they have lost. Helena Walton is known for her uncanny ability to find things that are lost and is hired by Lady Matthews to solve a twenty year old mystery of her three stepdaughters who vanished on the Fens of Norfolk. However, the Fens are the land of dark magic, folk lore and the devil himself.... Why have children been disappearing? Why have some been found catatonic? And is the Devil really in these lands? Meanwhile Sam, who recently lost his love finds himself caught in the middle of people exposing tricksters out to profit from peoples grief. Can these mediums really contact the dead or is it all just make-believe? Their two paths will cross on more than one occasion.... but is it meant to be or is it all too much of a coincidence? I adored the story as it takes many paths to begin with then entwines together with a very satisfying ending; its dark, Gothic, spooky and a perfect read for these long winter days and nights. It has many different vibes about it such as Michelle Paver and Laura Purcell but retains its own sense of being and charm. I could not put this book down as it has me entranced under its heady spell of Folk Lore, mystery and peoples own superstitions.....

  21. 5 out of 5

    Vincent Desjardins

    This book was a real disappointment which is a shame because it has so many elements that I typically enjoy - end of the Victorian era setting, spiritualism, seances, fairyland, changelings, mystery, spooky atmosphere, strong female character, etc. But unfortunately the book's structure seemed a bit of a mess. It was like the author had constructed a connect the dots puzzle, and probably had a good idea in her own head of what she was attempting, but she left out too many of the dots for a compl This book was a real disappointment which is a shame because it has so many elements that I typically enjoy - end of the Victorian era setting, spiritualism, seances, fairyland, changelings, mystery, spooky atmosphere, strong female character, etc. But unfortunately the book's structure seemed a bit of a mess. It was like the author had constructed a connect the dots puzzle, and probably had a good idea in her own head of what she was attempting, but she left out too many of the dots for a complete picture to emerge. The story almost felt like an outline that needed to be filled in more. I will have to admit that the copy I read was an Advance Readers Copy so maybe the final book will have some changes, although I doubt it will have additional material added. One thing it does need before publication is to have all of the typos in the ARC corrected. The ARC was filled with misspellings, incorrect pronouns, and wrong verb tenses. I have never read an ARC that contained so many errors.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sophie Farr

    Spooky, lyrical and full of atmosphere. I've always enjoyed books that play with ambiguity – the author assumes her reader is sharp enough to use their imagination to fill in any spaces, and it always leaves me thinking about the book for longer after I've finished it. Now I need to add Marian's short story collection to my reading list!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    DONT YOU JUST ADORE A GREAT BOOK WITH A HOT CUP OF COFFEE. GREAT BOOK AUTHOR.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Regina

    I am a fan of historical fiction and particularly love stories of the occult detective variety. I knew after reading Marian Womack's book, Lost Objects, that I wanted to read more. I am happy to say that after reading The Golden Key, I am looking forward to even more of her work. This is a slowly unfolding mystery that may or may not be solved by the end. It is full of ambiguity and adventure and mystery. It helps to be a fan of - or at least to be familiar with - George Macdonald's work (The Pr I am a fan of historical fiction and particularly love stories of the occult detective variety. I knew after reading Marian Womack's book, Lost Objects, that I wanted to read more. I am happy to say that after reading The Golden Key, I am looking forward to even more of her work. This is a slowly unfolding mystery that may or may not be solved by the end. It is full of ambiguity and adventure and mystery. It helps to be a fan of - or at least to be familiar with - George Macdonald's work (The Princess and the Goblin, The Golden Key, Phantastes) as it figures largely in the story. The narrator noted several times that Macdonald's The Golden Key was slow-moving and read more like a tour guide than a story, and this book echoes that at times. It was not a deterrent for me, and I eagerly devoured this in a day or so. I plan to go back and reread Macdonald's work before diving in a second time. The book was full of strong female characters, and they did not feel out of place in their environment. I really enjoyed Helena Walton-Cisneros and hope we see more of her in the future. Highly recommended.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Antonia

    Sadly this was quite disappointing although was definitely a 3.5/5 until the last 20 or so pages. In other reviews I’ve seen many other people disliked this book because of the style it’s written and chose to stop reading it because of this. However this is something I loved throughout because of its attempt to emulate traditional/classic gothic fiction. For example, it introduced so many characters and events and they all seem unrelated or distant at first until a later point in the story. I can Sadly this was quite disappointing although was definitely a 3.5/5 until the last 20 or so pages. In other reviews I’ve seen many other people disliked this book because of the style it’s written and chose to stop reading it because of this. However this is something I loved throughout because of its attempt to emulate traditional/classic gothic fiction. For example, it introduced so many characters and events and they all seem unrelated or distant at first until a later point in the story. I can see how this may be off putting for people if they weren’t aware that this was intentional. However towards the end I felt that I still had so many questions and nothing was wrapped up leaving the ending completely unanswered and open and necessary for a second book, something which I don’t think an ending should rely on. Definitely promising but perhaps a little ambitious and I’m doubtful that a sequel would address the unanswered questions before it raised more.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Carole-Ann

    Managed to get halfway through Ch. 7 and decided I couldn't be bothered. Set at the turn of the 20th century, we have a competition between two rival spiritualistic/mystical organisations; a man (Sam) who may/may not have lost a wife/lover; an old decaying house in the Fens; a mysterious disappearance of 3 children; a confident woman (Helena) using psychology and logic to solve "so-called" mysterious happenings; and another woman (Eliza) who I have no clue about. It jumps back and forth with vario Managed to get halfway through Ch. 7 and decided I couldn't be bothered. Set at the turn of the 20th century, we have a competition between two rival spiritualistic/mystical organisations; a man (Sam) who may/may not have lost a wife/lover; an old decaying house in the Fens; a mysterious disappearance of 3 children; a confident woman (Helena) using psychology and logic to solve "so-called" mysterious happenings; and another woman (Eliza) who I have no clue about. It jumps back and forth with various reminiscences of various people - not even coherently; and what I could call very purple prose descriptions of - oh, things like London streets, Fenland pathways, rooms in a house, and whatever. There appeared to be no story line at all: just a series of scenes, with very tenuous links. Totally disappointing.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I wanted to like this book. It had a number of elements that piqued my interest and it was praised by a favorite author of mine, but I'm afraid that it just didn't pan out. I found it difficult to keep track of the different characters as they moved through the story, and their respective narratives did not mesh into something harmonious. Moreover, the beginning of the book read slowly and then there was a mad dash to the finish line while trying to cram in industrial pollution, the spiritualist I wanted to like this book. It had a number of elements that piqued my interest and it was praised by a favorite author of mine, but I'm afraid that it just didn't pan out. I found it difficult to keep track of the different characters as they moved through the story, and their respective narratives did not mesh into something harmonious. Moreover, the beginning of the book read slowly and then there was a mad dash to the finish line while trying to cram in industrial pollution, the spiritualist movement, and fairies. In my opinion, any two of those themes with a refutation of the third might have worked far better than attempting to combine them all.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Mcghie

    It’s 1901. The Queen is dead and at the start of the 20th century the “norms” of Victorian England are being challenged a bit more than some may have considered possible during the long reign of Victoria. One notable change is a rise in spiritualism and the need for people to reach out and contact the deceased. As has always been the way; the rise in demand will increase the number of spiritualists who may appear and make themselves available. Through the story of The Golden Key I enjoyed seeing It’s 1901. The Queen is dead and at the start of the 20th century the “norms” of Victorian England are being challenged a bit more than some may have considered possible during the long reign of Victoria. One notable change is a rise in spiritualism and the need for people to reach out and contact the deceased. As has always been the way; the rise in demand will increase the number of spiritualists who may appear and make themselves available. Through the story of The Golden Key I enjoyed seeing the spiritualists and mediums that arrived in London were being challenged and treated with suspicion by the Gentlemen who sought proof their craft was real. Seances in controlled situations were demanded, investigations into how the spiritualist could possibly know personal information about their paying customers were conducted. I also very much enjoyed being reminded that these gatherings and seances would take place in the spiritualist’s home, an evening gathering in the parlour where dark rooms were lit by candles and shadows dominate the proceedings – it creates wonderful imagery. Much of The Golden Key is viewed through the eyes of Helena Walton-Cisneros. She is a feisty and determined character, indeed the first time we meet her she appears shifty, out of place and then to avoid scrutiny she delivers a single blow to our (then) narrator to render him unconscious. What a great way to introduce the lead character, though perhaps not so great for our other main voice (Sam Moncrieff). Sam’s story is interwoven with that of Helena. He is plagued by recurring dreams of a terrifying house and he cannot recall if he has visited the house in question or if it is a figment of his imagination. He feels Helena may be able to help him find some answers, however, he also has a degree of caution and suspicion around her skills. When he challenges her to read his cards and asks that she does not try to embellish her performance and just deal in facts Sam finds there may be more to Helena’s skills than he is willing to accept. The story is, at heart, an investigation by Helena into the disapparance of three sisters on the fens many years earlier. This issue fades into the background for parts of the story but the narrative keeps us pushing along and often incidents which appear unrelated can be tied to the main story. As befits a Victorian ghostly story the narrative can be fanciful in telling and once or twice I was re-reading passages to re-affirm to myself what had just occurred (the curse of being something of a skim reader). I was most happy when the ghosts were abound or the seances were ramping up but I did enjoy watching Helena piece together elements of the case she had been engaged to investigate. Crossing a ghost story with a historical novel is always great for that creepy, gothic vibe and The Golden Key ticked all the boxes in that regard. Once the characters had been established and the tale picked up pace I found I was drawn into the story and every creak of my house would make me jump. Fun reading – slightly too flighty in the narrative at times as events jumped around a bit more than I had expected but a good tale running through this one and ghostly appearances are always time well spent in a book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kate (Looking Glass Reads)

    Traditional Victorian gothic is mixed with elements of mystery and fantasy in The Golden Key by Marian Womack. In this, as of yet, standalone novel, the supernatural clash against psychology and detective work. Underneath that lies something more than the Victorian indulgence for séances and tarot readings. There’s something uncanny happening, something that can’t be explained by normal measures but can be felt and seen nonetheless. The book is told from multiple viewpoints—a young man with a str Traditional Victorian gothic is mixed with elements of mystery and fantasy in The Golden Key by Marian Womack. In this, as of yet, standalone novel, the supernatural clash against psychology and detective work. Underneath that lies something more than the Victorian indulgence for séances and tarot readings. There’s something uncanny happening, something that can’t be explained by normal measures but can be felt and seen nonetheless. The book is told from multiple viewpoints—a young man with a strange past, a lady scientist, and a lady detective. The setting takes place in the quiet solitude of the English countryside. Stately, moldering manors, Tudor ruins, and foggy landscapes make for quite a vivid setting. The great change and upheaval of the era can also be felt here. The suffragette movement, the questioning of mediums’ powers even amidst their continued popularity, the influence of science and methodology frame the story. Characters tend to lean towards different ideologies and beliefs, their actions and personalities formed around these. Overall, I quite liked the characters. Helena, our main character, certainly stands out among them. I did wish we saw a little more into some of their personalities a bit earlier on in the novel—Lady Matthews in particular comes to mind. By and large, though, all were quite memorable. While much of the earlier parts of this book do read like an historical mystery novel, this most certainly falls within the realms of speculative fiction. Fantasy is not simply relegated to the realms of mysteries found in old mansions or the realms of magical realism. There is something very real here, fantastic in a literal sense, but dark as well. This isn’t a friendly kind of magic—if that is what it is—and is something frightening that local inhabitants like to pretend they don’t see. This creates an interesting caveat. Helena, the detective trying to solve a twenty year old cold case, is faced time and again with things distinctly otherworldly. An obvious clash of beliefs occurs, leading both Helena and the reader down unexpected paths—and ones some don’t necessarily want coming to light. That said, The Golden Key certainly feels gothic in nature. There is a darkness that creeps in at the edges, a sense of foreboding and forlornness. Old secrets abound, especially ones that aren’t so much secrets but the undiscussed dark times of days long gone and best forgotten. The epilogue ties ongoing mysteries together nicely, while leaving a bit of wiggle room for more. I really enjoyed The Golden Key by Marian Womack, and would certainly join Helena on any further mysteries she is required to solve. I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review can be originally found on Looking Glass Reads.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    When a 315 page book takes me a week to read it something's wrong. It never pulled me in. It jumped all over the place. I would read 10 pages and it would just plain leave me tired. Maybe it's just not my kind of read! I did finish it. The ending was disappointing as was the entire book. Way too many good books out there to waste your time on this one.

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