Review: The Child Cephalina by Rebecca Lloyd

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Rebecca Lloyd's The Child Cephalina was published by Tartarus Press in November 2019.

About Rebecca Lloyd:

Much of Rebecca Lloyd’s work is in the literary horror and Gothic genres, including The Bellboy, a novella (Zagava 2018), and Seven Strange Stories, (Tartarus Press 2017). Her other story collections include Ragman and Other Family Curses, (Egaeus Press 2016), Mercy and Other Stories, (Tartarus Press 2014), and The View from Endless Street, (WiDo Publishing 2014). Recent literary awards in which she has been acknowledged include The World Fantasy Award, The Aestas Short Story Prize, and the Paul Bowles Short Fiction Award. Some of her stories have been reprinted in Best British Horror, (Salt Publishing), Best New Horror, (PS Publishing), and in recent volumes of Best Horror of the Year.

Click here to visit her official website.

About The Child Cephalina:

Rebecca Lloyd’s superb Gothic novel explores friendship, obsession and the uncanny in teeming mid-Victorian London. At its heart is a tale of human relationships threatened by an unknowable force.

From the very first, the child Cephalina brought conflict into the otherwise peaceful, if eccentric, household at number 12 Judd Street. Robert’s fascination with her was instant, but he could never decide if this eleven-year-old was innocent and lonely, or clever and manipulative. It worried him. His encounters with her were both enchanting and unnerving. All the while his devotion to her was growing, until in the end, nothing could save him from a fate he would never have believed could be his...


Rebecca Lloyd's The Child Cephalina is a literary Gothic horror novel that is pure pleasure for lovers of literary speculative fiction. It's a dark supernatural tale of friendship and obsession in Victorian London. It can be seen as a homage to classic Gothic horror fiction and an appreciative nod towards old-fashioned supernatural tales.

Because I've always enjoyed reading gradually unfolding stories and love atmospheric horror tales, I was impressed by this novel and found it mesmerising. The author has created an intriguing story that slowly sinks its hooks into the reader and becomes increasingly disquieting towards the ending.

I strongly recommend this novel to readers who are familiar with such authors as William Hope Hodgson, Algernon Blackwood, Angela Carter, Clark Ashton Smith, Sheridan Le Fanu and Edgar Allan Poe. If you like what these authors have written and enjoy their stories, I can guarantee that you'll love this novel and will be utterly fascinated by it.

The Child Cephalina tells of Robert Groves whose work with the children of the street keeps him busy. He interviews the children and gives them a meal in exchange for the interview, because he is writing a book about them and their lives. He has recorded many aspects of their lives and is interested in how they live and survive on the streets. When a girl called Cephalina appears at his house, Robert becomes intrigued and utterly obsessed about her, but his housekeeper, Tetty, finds her contriving and sordid...

This marks the beginning of a dark and unnerving story that will captivate readers who love Gothic stories. The story flows perfectly from start to finish and gathers momentum towards the shocking ending.

I find the characterisation excellent and wonderfully nuanced in this novel. The characters are fluently portrayed and feel realistic. The author's precise and vivid way of writing about them and their feelings is both gripping and entertaining, because she pays attention to their characteristics and appearance.

Robert is a bachelor, who lives with his housekeeper of many years, Mrs Tetty Brandling, and a teenaged boy, Martin Ebast, who helps him and Tetty around the house and finds children who can be interviewed. Robert writes articles to newspapers and does research about the children living on the streets of London. When Cephalina appears at his house, he tries to help her.

Cephalina is a stunningly portrayed character who is young, but has apparently experienced a lot. She is surprisingly intelligent and mature for her age. She is unlike all the other children Robert has ever met and interviewed, because her manner and appearance are different from the children who live on the streets.

Tetty is a down-to-earth kind of a character who is not afraid of speaking out loud what's on her mind. She's a resourceful housekeeper who keeps the household running despite being worried about financial matters and lack of funds. She tries to warn Robert of Cephalina, because she feels her to be contriving and gifty and is afraid of her, but Robert doesn't listen to her.

Rebecca Lloyd writes beautiful and clear prose that instantly resonates with the reader. Her writing style is marked by elegance and subtle nuances that emphasise the story's unsettling elements. What I like perhaps most about the author's prose is that she effortlessly evokes an eerie sense of something being not quite right about Cephalina, but does not reveal everything at once.

Friendship, obsession, devotion and the uncanny are explored well in this novel. I was especially impressed by the author's approach to unhealthy friendships, because she unflinchingly explores what Robert feels for Cephalina, how he becomes obsessed with her and what happens between them. She writes strikingly about how Robert is drawn towards Cephalina and how he feels about her.

I find the author's depictions of spiritualism, séances and mediums compelling and convincing. As many readers are probably aware of, there was a craze for spiritualism in mid-19th century with many fraudulent set-ups, the purpose of which was to exploit people. The author explores these things in an excellent and thought-provoking way. I won't go into details about the story, but I can mention that it features a perfectly depicted scene in which Robert participates in a séance. This scene will surely impress many readers.

The atmosphere in this novel is captivatingly unsettling and harrowing. The subtle hints about Cephalina possibly being objected to something disturbing by her owners awaken strong feelings of disquiet in the reader.

I love the author's ability to breathe life into her vision of Victorian London. Her way of writing about London is so vivid and vibrant that the reader can almost feel the chill of the fog floating in the air and experience the smell and stench of the river Thames. She also writes realistically about poverty and what kind of lives poor people have in the city.

Of all the horror novels I've read during the recent months, The Child Cephalina is definitely among the best and most captivating, because it's something different and memorable. It left me fully satisfied with its story and I was impressed by the ending (the ending is worth waiting for, because it's excellent).

If you love literary horror fiction or enjoy Gothic horror fiction, you can't afford to miss Rebecca Lloyd's The Child Cephalina, because it's one of the best novels of its kind. The story will both astound and shock you, because it's subtly unsettling and brilliantly written. Once you begin to read this novel, you'll find yourself fully immersed in it and will keep on turning pages to find out what happens in the final chapters.

Highly recommended!