cover image The Child Cephalina

The Child Cephalina

Rebecca Lloyd. Tartarus, $55 (272p) ISBN 978-1-912586-20-2

Set in London in 1851, this carefully wrought gothic tale from Lloyd (Seven Strange Stories) shines a light on the dark side of the spiritualist movement. Narrator Robert Groves is a well-intentioned writer who has embarked on a series of interviews with street children whose accounts of their harsh lives are the grist for his tract-in-progress, Wretched London. He becomes obsessively infatuated with one of these youngsters, 11-year-old Cephalina, the waiflike ward of a pair of shifty séance holders, the Clutchers. Robert’s plans to buy Cephalina from the Clutchers and make her his own ward are complicated by his housekeeper’s belief that there is something “sordid” about the girl, and Cephalina’s own perplexing claims to a twin sister, Euphoria, who may or may not exist, and whom she refers to cryptically as her “shade-body.” Lloyd plays Cephalina’s beguiling manipulations craftily off of Groves’s naivete regarding the world under his journalist’s microscope, and she grounds her story in such rich and colorful period detail that events seem eerily believable when they take a turn for the macabre. Readers will race to this novel’s eerie conclusion to see if their worst suspicions about Cephalina’s and Euphoria’s true relationship are borne out. (Feb.)