Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder. When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted with the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches. Can she be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

Laura Purcell has a lot to live up to after the success of her first novel, The Silent Companions, released last year to widespread acclaim. I was one of many readers who loved Purcell’s gothic Victorian ghost story, and she has returned once more with another tale to bewitch the senses and chill the blood.

The Corset is a tale of revenge, of women finding a way to wield power in whatever way they can. Purcell quickly arouses your sympathy for both of the main characters; friendless Ruth trapped in poverty, and Dorothea who is trapped by the expectations of her social class. Both these women are fighting against the constraints placed on them because of their gender. Forced to submit to other people’s demands, they struggle to shape their own futures. There is great tension in the scenes between the two, as Ruth tells her story with earnest conviction, but Dorothea cannot bring herself to believe that the girl possesses supernatural powers.

As with The Silent Companions, The Corset is rich with description and historical detail, transporting you back in time to the Victorian era. Purcell perfectly creates atmosphere without overdoing it, and her vivid descriptions will alternately make you flinch, gasp and smile.

The supernatural aspects of the story are subtle and clever; we can never be quite sure whether the events are coincidences or down to some otherworldly force. A dark, eerie undertone runs throughout the whole book, perfect for this time of year when the air gets cooler and the nights start drawing in.

Despite its many strengths, this book was not without its weaknesses. Many of the secondary characters failed to stand out and were clearly only there to serve as plot devices. I also felt that Dorothea’s fascination with phrenology could have been explored further.

That said, I loved the ending, the way everything slotted into place with a few well-chosen last minute reversals that made you re-evaluate everything that went before – and that make this the perfect book to read time and time again.

The Corset is released on 20th September.

Many thanks to Bloomsbury for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.