Jess and her widowed mother eke out a genteel living in Victorian England as spiritualists, claiming to communicate with the dead; when a cryptic message replaces the fake they’ve prepared for a grieving client, her mother—terrified—insists they flee to London.
There, sheltered by her parents’ wealthy, half-faerie associate, Balthazar, Jess learns the three were members of the League of Ravens, using their genuine occult powers to defeat Mephisto, a diabolical gang reanimating the dead. Balthazar tells Jess she’s a mesmerist, able to enter the minds of those around her. Joining the reconstituted league, Jess moves into a house in London’s impoverished East End. Residents include Emily, who can conjure light, and Gabriel, whose gift relies on music—both plucked from a dismal orphanage to combat Mephisto. Jess is stunned, too, by the brutal poverty she sees. Her gift helps her empathize with its scarred victims, now threatened by a mysterious, deadly plague, its rapid spread blamed on communists and immigrants. Fear once prevented Jess from aiding Deepa, an Indian friend victimized by bias and hatred (Jess and the other characters appear to be white); now, she fights injustice in two worlds. Exploring fictional terrain far from the 1930s Alabama so powerfully conveyed in the award-winning Hoodoo (2015), Smith continues to display a deft mastery of worldbuilding and creepy, atmospheric plotting.
A gripping tale enhanced by a convincingly detailed setting and drawing on classic fantasy memes. (Fantasy/horror. 10-12)