Category Archives: Gothic

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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Sunday Review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In this week before Halloween, I’ve decided to post a review for a book I read a few months ago: Mexican Gothic. Set in the 1950s, the novel takes a classic gothic plot line but transports it to Mexico—a young woman travels to a mysterious house and uncovers a secret horror that ends up threatening her life and freedom.

Noemí Tabada is a popular and charming debutante in the highest levels of Mexican society, known for her beautiful clothes and many admirers. When her recently married cousin Catalina sends a letter home describing bizarre and dangerous happenings in her new husband’s family estate, Noemí’s father sends her on a mission to see if Catalina is losing her mind. When she first arrives, Noemí has a difficult time finding anything wrong, except that no one wants to let her spend time alone with the cousin she came to see.

Of course, things don’t stop there. Noemí begins to have terrible nightmares and to suspect that something is very, very wrong beneath the surface. I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil the book’s effect.

To be honest, when I read it, I struggled with my reaction to this novel. Parts of it are incredibly disturbing and distasteful, but … that’s kind of the point. In the end, I came to see it as an exploration of the survival instinct. On the one hand is one person’s deformed survival instinct, grown bloated, diseased, and parasitical, which fuels all the weirdness. On the other hand is the main character’s strong but still-within-the-bounds-of-reason survival instinct, fueled by courage, love, and her own indomitable will. I’m glad I read it, but the last section of the novel is not for the faint of heart.

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Filed under Book Reviews, fiction, Gothic, Historical fiction