The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe


Reading this book was a bit like watching someone trying to fly a kite for the first time: every now and then, a promising burst of energy wafts the story upwards creating intrigue and forward movement, but then just as quickly, the energy abandons the book, leaving the reader to reconcile the subplots to the main plot.

Speaking of which, the main plot in the book is excellent, an adept use of magical realism that is not intrusive. In fact, the magic in the book seems, for all intents and purposes, somewhat feasible. The momentum in Sibyl’s story (when considered independently from the rest of the text) is very fluid, and Howe makes excellent use of the cliffhanger device at the end of Sibyl’s sections.

The bits in the middle, though, are somewhat problematic. Their connection to the main plot is not often obvious, and quite often the reader is left to make the connection between the stories for him/herself, leaving much room for misinterpretation. Take, for example, Eulah’s and Helen’s experience aboard the Titanic. While it’s not often advisable to spell out everything for a reader, clarification is sometimes necessary, and that clarification is not obvious in the last section aboard the Titanic.

Despite its tangents, the book maintains its focus, or rather its controlled lack of it, with the help of the time period in which the story is set. On the heels of Titanic’s sinking and on the cusp of US entrance into WWI, the feeling of being out of control, something with which Sibyl seems to struggle, is genuinely realistic and perhaps lends itself as an excuse for some of the more problematic subplots in the story.

The House of Velvet and Glass will, for the most part, keep readers entertained despite some false starts and superfluous subplots (EX: Harlan’s experience with Rawlings), and readers will not be disappointed with the overall story.