Cover image for The book of shadows
The book of shadows
Reese, James, 1964-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : William Morrow, [2002]

Physical Description:
468 pages ; 25 cm
Subject Term:
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Library

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An extraordinary new literary voice makes a stunning debut in a darkly sensual, powerfully told tale of strange destiny and miraculous reawakening.

Herculine is only six-years-old when she watches her mother die horribly and inexplicably. A child alone in the nineteenth-century French countryside, she makes her way to the secluded convent, where she is taken in as a foundling orphan and raised by nuns who teach the children of the privileged to fear a wrathful God. But shy, unworldly Herculine is not like the others in this cold, forebidding place. And when she is led down a dark path by a rebellious fellow student, she soon finds herself convicted of crimesunimaginable.

But death at the hands of the ignorant and falsely pious is not to be Herculine's lot. Held captive in the convent library, she is visited by four unexpected saviors with timeless needs of their own: the incubus priest Father Louis; the tragic, damned beauty Madeleine; the demonic Asmodei; and Sebastiana d'Azur, a witch. By dawn, Herculine is free yet forever changed as she follows her liberators into a world of sensuous pleasures and great mysteries both wondrous and strange.

Secreted away in Sebastiana's once-grand manor high above the Breton sands, Herculine sets out to find out why she has been "chosen" and for what purpose. Her quest--ripe with erotic discovery, dark magic, heresy, and blood--propels her headlong through the perils of the age, across borders between the living and the dead, and back through a time when hysteria and madness reigned, when noble heads were impaled and paraded through the streets of Paris. For only when her mysterious mission is completed--and the terrible otherworldly roots of a gruesome Revolution are finally revealed--can she understand who and what she truly is. Until then, she must simply trust ... and learn.

A work of stunning originality, gorgeous terror, and lush, disturbing beauty, James Reese's The Book of Shadows is a miraculous achievement -- a richly atmospheric, superbly rendered novel that brings to life epochs as colorful as they are chaotic. Rich with unforgettable characters and startling events, it is a masterwork of the imagination that will stand with the novels of A. S. Byatt and Anne Rice, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and other classic literature of shadowy sensuality.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

With witches, sorcerers, a bewitched nunnery, and all of this in post-revolutionary France, Reese turns out a gothic novel in the true sense--dark, mysterious, sumptuous, lusty, and otherworldly. Heracline is an orphan whose mother bled to death before her eyes. Sent to a convent school, she remains there until her life becomes endangered. She is eventually mystically rescued by a strange, beautiful group of people who introduce her to her true nature, something she has been fearful of for some time. Her rescue, it turns out, is all part of a pre-determined plan, bringing Heracline into contact with all sorts of demons and otherworldly types and illuminating for her things that used to go on, undetected, before her very eyes. She sets off on a journey across France, learning the secret of herself, of witchcraft, historical events, and the part played by the spirit world. Reese paints a portrait rich in style and allusion, both literary and historical, of a gory, lush underworld where the flesh takes precedence over the spirit. --Michael Spinella

Publisher's Weekly Review

A sinuous plot studded with uncanny surprises snakes through this nontraditional period gothic. Its first-person narrator, Herculine, seems cut from the same cloth as the heroines of classic sensationalist fiction: vulnerable, tragically orphaned and, at the tale's outset, immured in the tedious routines of early 19th-century French convent life. But Herculine's self-consciousness about unnamed physical endowments suggests an unusual heritage whose dimensions become known when a schoolgirl prank leads to shocking revelations of the "unnatural" and accusations of witchcraft. Before she can be tried, she is spirited to safety by witch Sebastiana d'Azur, a "Soror Mystica" who tutors her in the enchantments necessary for Herculine to fulfill her destiny: to liberate Father Louis and his lover, Madeleine de la Mettrie, two elemental spirits chained to earth. Herculine's instruction proves a pretext for relating elaborate 18th-century chronicles of Louis's trumped-up trial for witchcraft and Sebastiana's tutelage in the mysteries of the Craft, and it is through these tales that the novel comes into its own. Reese loosens restraints, making the novel more than a mere historical pastiche and jarring the reader with vivid accounts of Louis's cruel torture, the passion of Sebastiana's education and the revolting inhumanity of the French Revolution's reign of terror. Overlong and distractingly plotless, these interludes nevertheless impress, levering out in deceptively simple language the eroticism and violence smoldering beneath traditional gothic fustian. Though loosely episodic, the novel achieves a historical sweep that distinguishes Reese as a star pupil in the Anne Rice school of dark sensuality. (Mar. 1) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this debut novel, Reese explores the dark world of obsession and magic in 18th-century Brittany. Orphaned Herculine has grown up in the narrow confines of a French convent. She knows that she is different and is both ashamed and afraid of these differences. Shocking events at the convent cause her to reevaluate her identity, as she is drawn into a web of sorcery and betrayal. Befriended by witches, ghosts, and other supernatural creatures, Herculine struggles to find a place for herself in the world. Should she help these new friends or run away as fast as she can? This novel shows potential that is, alas, unrealized. A confusing setting and plot are complicated by Reese's insistence on developing minor characters at the expense of his protagonist. Lengthy tangential chapters serve only to muddy the waters further. Not recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/01.] Laurel Bliss, Yale Arts Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.