James Reese, Author . Morrow $25.95 (480p) ISBN 978-0-06-621015-5

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)

Reviewed on: 02/04/2002
Release date: 03/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 640 pages - 978-0-06-088072-9
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Ebook - 640 pages - 978-0-06-116053-0
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