The Book of the Most Precious Substance – Sara Gran

Published By: Faber and Faber
Pages: 336
Released On: 03/11/2022

Rare book dealer Lily Albrecht has just been given a tip-off about The Book of the Most Precious Substance, a 17th century manual rumoured to be the most powerful occult book ever written, if it really exists at all.

With some of the wealthiest people in the world willing to pay Lily a fortune to track it down, she embarks on a journey from New York to New Orleans to Munich to Paris. If she finds it, Lily stands to gain more than just money. This could erase the greatest tragedy of her life. But will Lily’s quest help her find some answers, or will she lose everything in search of a ghost?


Thanks to NetGalley and Faber and Faber for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.

I admit that when I received this book, I didn’t think it would be my kind of thing. I requested a copy because I was intrigued, but for one reason I cannot fathom, I just expected not to like it. But I did. For the most part. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. I’m not sure I believe in everything in the book – sex magic or magic sex for example – but each to their own. I love books that involve books or bookshops and this one’s follows the book collecting world and for a bibliophile, it is extremely exciting. This is our kind of porn. Which is ironic, given the whole magic sex angle.

It is most definitely NSFW. I’m not sure what I was expecting considering it follows a magical sex book, but I wasn’t expecting quite so vivid sex scenes, they’re a bit of an eye opener. Definitely a book for over 18s, and even then it will be a bit of a shock.

There are of course some, potentially, triggering subjects including illness, death, grief, dementia, financial worries, loneliness, violence. And I’d love to say they’re not overwhelming, but that wouldn’t be true. There’s a lot of stuff going on, but that’s part and parcel of the storyline itself.

Traditionally, erotica hasn’t always been described as good writing or good storytelling. It serves a purpose and that purpose isn’t necessarily great literature. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily describe this as great literature, I can’t see it joining the classics shelf, but it’s more than erotica. It has a heart and a message beneath it all.

The whole magic + sex = eternal power thing seems somewhat far fetched for me. I believe in magic and spirits and ghosts and whatnot, but this just tipped the scales over to unbelievable.

I’ve not read a book by Sara Gran before, and I’m not sure I’ll rush to read the others if this is the kind of strain of her work. I did enjoy it, it was interesting and fun and shocking, but just a bit much for me. I felt the plot was very thin on the ground and yet it seems busy and rushed.

I did feel we were on a bit of a wild goose chase. Our protagonists travel from one country to the next and it all gets rather repetitive; travel, dinner, sex, breakfast, meeting, dinner, sex, travel etc. etc. And you do start wondering if it’s vital to read every single bit because it’s all becoming quite similar, but at the same time, you’re worried you’ll miss something key. But I felt it could have done with slightly more variation.

We have two protagonists, Lily and Lucas. Lucas I didn’t like. He was meant to be this charismatic, debonair, handsome hero of the story and I felt he was quite seedy and selfish. Lily was better. She had a sad backstory and you didn’t begrudge her wanting success, but she was rather naive. There are of course a number of other characters but none that I feel are present enough to review.

It is being advertised as a horror book and in my opinion, there aren’t any horror elements at all. There’s thriller and romance and fantasy, but I wouldn’t it’s in anyway scary. A bit thrilling and intriguing and edgy, but not frightening.

Bizarrely, and I know this doesn’t help readers of this review, but I can’t decide if the ending worked or not. It seemed at first like a natural conclusion, but it also felt like a complete 180° flip and a bit rushed. I felt 95% of the book was on one train, and then the end was full of twists and turns and changes that weren’t in keeping with the rest of the story, and by the end I felt it wasn’t even the same story,

Having said all that, it was thoroughly entertaining and interesting. It felt like a murder mystery, in the sense that it was fast paced and exciting, and you’d get to the end of a chapter and need to read the next straight away. I read it in 2 days, which is proof that I did enjoy it, but it wouldn’t necessarily say it’ll stay with me for long.

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