Book Review

The Shabti by Megaera C. Lorenz

Within the first paragraph of reading this I knew I wanted to review it. When the writing itself is just so good, you have to share it. About a chapter in, I actually stopped and restarted the book because I was reading it too quickly and I wanted to savour it. The book didn’t quite live up to the promise of those first few pages, but I still devoured it in one sitting.

The book is set in a small town in Illinois in 1934. Dashiel Quicke is in town doing a show exposing the tricks of the Spiritualist trade, such as how the ectoplasm works and how mediums do cold reads, that kind of thing. Dashiel knows all of this because for twenty odd years (yes, both leads are solidly middle-aged) Dashiel made his living as a ‘medium’. In the audience is Professor Hermann Goschalk, an Egyptologist. Dashiel does a reading on him that blows Hermann’s mind and after the performance Hermann approaches Dashiel for assistance. Dashiel is reluctant, but he’s rather down on his luck in the money department so can’t really turn down a paying gig. Hermann has a haunted artifact (the shabti of the book title) and he thinks that Dashiel is the perfect person to solve this problem. Dashiel is not so sure, but again, cash wins.

When Dashiel is eventually confronted with a real spirit he is terrified. And honestly, so was I, but only enough that I read more quickly to see what would happen next rather than being too scared to carry on. It’s a good, approachable ghost story. It got a bit slow in the middle with the ghost’s activities escalating a little slower than I would like. But in the last third of the book, things really speed up and I ignored my real life until the last delicious page. Dashiel and Hermann end up fighting alongside one another on two fronts: the wild escalation of the ghost in the haunted object and the return of a less than savoury character from Dashiel’s past.

The m/m romance part is definitely a subplot, and this is a sweet, closed-door romance. There isn’t as much emotional development in the romance plot as I would like. I didn’t think there was much chemistry between the two, nor did I feel that delicious frisson of attraction during their scenes together. Part of the reason that the romance felt a little dull is because Hermann himself is a little dull. He is goodness personified which in real life would be a boon, but in the book world it means that he can be a little boring. If you read this book as a period ghost story with a romantic subplot, then I don’t think you’d be too disappointed with the romance.

Where this book really shines is the rich historical detail. The author is an actual Egyptologist, so the haunted object feels real because the worldbuilding around it is so rich. There is also a lot of nuance and history around the Spiritualist movement and its mediums and their actions. There is something else wonderful about the intricacies of this book, but it belongs behind a spoiler tag.

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At one point, Dashiel attempts a seance to try and communicate with the spirit haunting the object in question. The scene was masterful and compelling in part because it was built from the elements of a seance that I was already familiar with as a reader – the same ones Dashiel exposes as fraudulent in the beginning. It was so intense! The real ectoplasm, the real jerky movements as the spirit moves Dashiel’s body. It was mesmerising.

Overall, this was a thoroughly diverting book. I didn’t even have a chance to develop my weekly case of the Sunday scaries because this book kept me entranced. Yes, for me there were some technical flaws with the pacing and character development, but they were not enough to stop me enjoying the book as a whole. This is a debut novel, and I shall definitely be looking out for more from this author.

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The Shabti by Megaera Lorenz

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  1. LisaM says:

    I feel like I’ve been waiting *forever* for the North American release of this, and I’m so excited it’s finally here. Hopefully my paper copy will arrive in good time for the long US holiday weekend, so I can dive into it.

  2. JoanneBB says:

    This sounds interesting, I had not heard of it at all. Adding it to the “check library and sales” list.

  3. Todd says:

    It does sound interesting. And, fyi, a ushabti would be a figurine of a servant to serve the dead person in the afterlife.

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