the golden key

*** Now Out from Titan Books ***

A gothic supernatural novel in the vein of Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellAlice in Wonderland and Sarah Waters.

Part supernatural gothic horror, part environmental tale, The Golden Key is the first instalment of the Helena Walton-Cisneros detective series. 


1091. After the death of Queen Victoria, England heaves with the uncanny. Séances are held and the dead are called upon from darker realms.

Helena Walton-Cisneros, known for her ability to find the lost and the displaced, is hired by the elusive Lady Matthews to solve a twenty-year-old mystery: the disappearance of her three stepdaughters who vanished without a trace on the Norfolk Fens.

Eliza Waltraud is solving a vanishing of her own, that of Eunice Foote from the science books, after being the first person to theorise about the warming of the atmosphere due to poisonous gases in her writings. Is the disappearance of the tern connected with a pollution problem, or is something darker afoot?

The Fen is an age-old land, where folk tales and dark magic still lingers. The locals speak of devilmen and catatonic children are found on the Broads. And Helena and Eliza both find what they were looking for, as the Fenland always give up its secrets, in the end…


‘Slow-burning gothic to folk horror to environmentalism and the destructive arrogance of imperialism. The end result is a smart, haunting novel that stuns the reader with its elegance and beauty but refuses to leave their mind after reading. Although the year has only just begun, if I read another novel as good as this in 2020 I will be doing well.’ Jonathan Thornton, The Fantasy Hive

‘Precise and eerie … Patient readers willing to wade through Womack’s murky, off-kilter world will be rewarded with moments of disquieting beauty.’ Publishers Weekly

‘Having a character who’s able to navigate numerous social strata, never quite fitting in with any of them, offers a dash of the traditional detective story in a novel that blends seemingly disparate elements towards a compelling end … But it’s in keeping with Womack’s past work that the most resonant moments in this novel are those where the landscape becomes a character, and arguably the most sinister one to be found within these pages.’ Tobias Carroll,

‘With hints of the brooding Gothic of Rawblood and Rebecca, this wonderfully creepy historical novel makes it absolutely clear that Marian Womack is a rising star.’ Tim Major, author of Snakeskins

‘An intriguing and unsettling tale of séances, strange lights, disappearing children and a poacher who swears he has seen the devil in the marshes … Womack brings a great sense of the uncanny to the Fens.’
Alison Littlewood, author of A Cold Season

‘Graceful, moving, confident and intricate, like slipping into a warm bath and finding secret thorns there to pierce the heart’
Catherynne Valente, Locus Award-winning author of Space Opera and Deathless

‘A beguiling mystery that lingers long after reading, much
like the unsettling mists of the Fens that creep through this story. The Golden Key mesmerises, offers a door to another world – one which casts an uncanny light on our own self-destruction.’
Katherine Stansfield, author of Falling Creatures

‘A fey, unsettling vision of Norfolk, and London, that fans of The Essex Serpent will love. A compelling mystery in which everyone has hidden facets, this book gives up its secrets like a puzzle box.’ G.V. Anderson, BFS award-winner and World Fantasy Award winner

‘A fascinating, unsettling tale that shifts, mutates and changes meaning much like the eerie ruined house in the Fens at the centre of this weird and brilliant debut novel.’  Lisa Tuttle, author of The Witch at Wayside Cross