Sunday Review: The Library of Light and Shadow by M.J. Rose

NOTE: This got lost in my drafts folder, so this week, there are two reviews.

Because today is Halloween, I’m reviewing a book about magic, witchcraft, and love.

Descendant of a witch named La Lune, Delphine Duplessi has an unsetting talent of her own. While wearing a blindfold, she is able to draw portraits of her subjects that reveal their deeply hidden secrets. She supports herself in New York by creating such portraits as a party trick, only to have one such exhibition uncover a betrayal that leads to tragedy.

Horrified and consumed by guilt, Delphine returns to her home in the south of France and vows never to do another “shadow portrait,” as she refers to her blindfold creations. But France is no safe haven for Delphine. The reason she was in New York in the first place was that she fled Paris in terror because one of her visions revealed that she was going to cause the death of Mathieu, her one true love.

Recuperating from the New York incident in the house of her mother, also an artist and witch, Delphine rereads the journal she kept during her relationship with Mathieu and tries to fend off the pressure exerted by her twin brother and business manager, Sebastian, to return to doing shadow portraits. Eventually, she discovers that he too is in danger and reluctantly agrees to help him by creating shadow portraits, not of a person, but of a chateau where an ancient alchemical work called Book of Abraham is said to be hidden. The Duplessis’ client is Emma Calvé, a famous and charismatic opera singer who has searched for the work for years.

The novel is atmospheric and contains vivid descriptions. The post-World War I time period felt fresh and was perfect for the story. I found Delphine to be sympathetic and well developed.  The other main characters—Mathieu, Sebastian, Sandrine (the twins’ mother), Emma, and the enigmatic caretaker of Emma’s estate—are all complex and interesting.

As for the story’s premise, the idea of shadow portraits is both intriguing and disturbing. The mystery of the Book of Abraham has a surprising resolution.

However, I didn’t have unqualified enthusiasm for the novel. As much as I rooted for Mathieu and Delphine’s love, the flashbacks to their previous relationship began to lose my interest after a while. And the plot hinges on the interpretations of two pieces of ambiguous information that I was able to figure out very early. Overall, I would say this is a solid four-star effort. Note that this is the third in a series. I haven’t read the other two, but if you decide to read this and care about such things, the first installment is The Witch of Painted Sorrows.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Gothic, Historical fiction, Romance

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