The Wizard’s Daughter
Written early in Michaels’ (aka Elizabeth Peters) career during her gothic phase, she allegedly later said she was slightly embarrassed by the handful of books she produced in this genre. She did find more of a niche in the modern-day supernatural mystery, but I still find these period pieces of hers a lot of fun and definitely enjoy re-reading them every few years.
In what was a typical plot of the genre, this story features a young female protagonist, Marianne, who finds herself destitute and at the mercy of strangers upon the death of her beloved Scottish father, the Squire Ransome. At first intending to find a situation as a companion or governess, Marianne first finds herself duped into singing for her supper at a gentleman’s club that she is too young and naïve to know for what it really is, which is a kind of storehouse for mistresses. In dramatically Dickensian fashion she is almost the hapless victim of one particularly aggressive patron, but soon after is discovered by the elderly Duchess of Devenbrook, a rich and childless noblewoman who is utterly convinced that Marianne is actually the love-child of the Duchess’ dear friend, the legendary medium David Holmes, who disappeared mysteriously and presumably died many years before. As a result Marianne is essentially adopted by the Duchess and begins living a life of luxury, for which she feels terribly guilty, not helped by the fact that the two men closest to the Duchess, her physician and her attorney, are convinced that Marianne is a conniving fraud.
There’s a catch to the Duchess’ largesse, naturally, because since she’s convinced that Marianne has inherited Holmes’ psychic powers (whom Marianne doesn’t believe for an instant is actually her father), she wants Marianne to try and reach David in that realm beyond the grave via a series of séances. Marianne is dismayed by the idea but it seems to mean so much to the Duchess that she can’t refuse her, and indeed some very strange and frightening things do happen when the séances take place, things that Marianne doesn’t understand and can’t explain. Given that she also has the local hot-boy vicar as well as her old guardian warning her of the evil, satanic nature of these events, Marianne’s nerves are a little frazzled.
This is gothica-lite suspense done fairly well, I think, more than a match for the other queens of that genre, like Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt (love both of them, too, especially Whitney). Definitely nothing for Michaels to be embarrassed about! I really enjoyed reading it again after many years.