Helena Landless by Deanna Madden – Book Review

Helena Landless by Deanna Madden – Book Review


Helena Landless

Author – Deanna Madden
Publisher – Flying Dutchman Press
Pages – 328
Release Date – 4th October 2015
ISBN-13 – 978-0692559154
Format – ebook, paperbook
Reviewer – Jill
I received a free copy of this book
Post Contains Affiliate Links

synopsis of a witch Helena Landless

Helena Landless and her twin brother Neville travel from Ceylon to England after the death of their stepfather. In the sleepy cathedral town of Cloisterham they become entangled in the mysterious disappearance of young Edwin Drood one stormy night. Did hot-headed Neville murder him in a fit of temper, as Edwin’s grief-stricken uncle insists? Could he have accidentally drowned following a night of carousing or even taken his own life? Or did he fall victim to an enemy no one suspects?

In a story that ranges from the picturesque quaintness of an English cathedral town where not everyone may be as respectable as they appear to the dark streets and seedy back alleys of Victorian London, a determined young woman sets out to prove her brother’s innocence by discovering what really happened that fateful night.

Based on Charles Dickens’ last, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Helena Landless re-tells the story from the point of view of a young woman with secrets of her own caught up in the events surrounding the mysterious disappearance of Edwin Drood.

Review of a witch

Unfinished at the time of his death, Charles Dickens’, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, has continued to inspire writers. At least five or six books, a mock trial in 1914, four films, a radio play, a television drama and several theatrical performances, have all attempted to provide the missing end. Now Deanna Madden, a very good writer indeed, has also taken up the challenge, and she tells the story from a young woman’s point of view.

Helena Landless, just arrived from Ceylon, befriends the beautiful Rosa Bud and does her best to protect her new friend from the amorously obsessive choirmaster John Jasper. Madden plunges us into the Dickensian world, delights us with historically accurate scenes — the murky night streets, opium dens, raucous theatre-goers and street urchins. But if the setting lacks development and variety, if it seems like a too-tidy stage set, perhaps that’s because the vanished world can only be imagined: Dickens had the advantage of living in it.

Madden’s heroine is very much a twenty-first century creation, with all the psychology and protest of a young woman dropped into a time of different manners and mores. Can we really believe in her? Do we have to? The story is quick, lively and beautifully written at first, but it does slow. Dickens was a social critic, lashing out at the pompous and pretentious, at the day’s inferior education, at the dreadful social conditions. He exaggerated, knowing only exaggeration would provoke change. Social change is not Madden’s premise, and its bite is lacking.

Yes, Dickens could be ridiculously sentimental, and preachy too; Madden can’t be accused of either. But there is no mockery either; and there are none of his ridiculous, seedy, even vile characters. We need them. When everyone in this modern cast of characters is warm, jovial, generous, brave, helpful or just misunderstood; when all cheer each other on as a perfectly adorable alternative family group, we do feel slightly cheated.

Book Reviewed by Jill

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About the author of a witch


I write novels that cross genres but frequently involve the past (historical) or the future (speculative). I have taught literature and creative writing as a college teacher, and some of that immersion in literature finds its way into my writing. Originally from the Midwest, I now live in Honolulu, Hawaii, where snow is never an issue but hurricanes are.

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2 Responses

  1. Deanna Madden says:

    Thank you, Jill, for the thoughtful review of my novel Helena Landless!