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A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer

What a marvellous and original book. In blending history and science fiction, Angela Meyer has created a work of literary prowess that lingers in the imagination long after the last page.

Told from two viewpoints (mainly), this is the story of Australian Jeff who, longing to escape not merely his past, but his secret, hidden self, flees Melbourne for the Scottish Highlands and, eventually, an island. But Jeff carries more baggage than simply what he regards as his shameful desires. He also has a device that allows him to escape his deteriorating corporeal frame and enter the mind and soul of someone from the past. That someone is young Leonora. Warned he can only use it three times, Jeff ignores the advice, and uses the equipment to escape his own life and experience Leonora’s at will.

Motherless Leonora lives in the Scottish Highlands in the 1860s with her father, tending the land and animals of the local laird. Content with her lot, loving the knowledge passed onto her by Mr Anderson who manages the laird’s many animals, Leonora is inquisitive, kind and keen to learn as much as she can. When she not only befriends the young laird but starts to have strange visions and yearnings which she cannot reconcile, she wonders what is happening to her.

When her father sends her to join her aunt in sooty, noisy Edinburgh, Leonora is inconsolable. Torn from her old life, the only constant is the man she senses lurking behind her eyes, on the periphery of her mind and the strange, impossible visions and strong, sensual urges his presence arouses. Uncertain what is happening to her, fearful she is going mad, possessed or both, Leonora’s life begins to unravel. There is only one way she can be saved, but selfish, indulgent Jeff is no hero.

Two lives are at stake, but only one can survive…

Exquisitely written, this book evokes both a distant future where human contact and companionship can be replaced by life-like devices and technology gives us entrée to the past and others that is both dangerous and exhilarating. It also plunges readers into history and Scotland post-enlightenment. This was a time when women and science were pushing boundaries and the mind was a new territory, ripe for exploration and exploitation.

Unique, rich and incredibly sensual and sexual, this novel takes us to the edges of desire and beyond, exploring issues such as loss, regret, choices, shame, sexual fantasy and reality, and the depths and heights to which human nature can both plume and strive. It also examines boundaries – those imposed by our sex and sexual desires, social constraints and culture and how, even we’re free, we create our own cages and then rail against them.

What also makes this novel so very different is the way it not only segues between male and female point of view but how, at times, these either blur or become so distinct as to appear as if they’re alternate species.

Clever, convincing and unputdownable, Meyer’s debut novel is sensational. My sincere thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for a copy. What a ride. What a read.

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