The Book of Shadows

The Book of Shadows

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by James Reese

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Alone among the young girls taught by nuns at a convent school in nineteenth-century France, orphaned Herculine has neither wealth nor social connections. When she's accused of being a witch, the shy student is locked up with no hope of escape ... until her rescue by a real witch, the beautiful, mysterious Sebastiana. Swept away to the witch's manor, Herculine will


Alone among the young girls taught by nuns at a convent school in nineteenth-century France, orphaned Herculine has neither wealth nor social connections. When she's accused of being a witch, the shy student is locked up with no hope of escape ... until her rescue by a real witch, the beautiful, mysterious Sebastiana. Swept away to the witch's manor, Herculine will enter a fantastic, erotic world to discover her true nature -- and her destiny -- in this breathtaking, darkly sensual first novel.

Editorial Reviews

Caleb Carr
A novelist of immense talent and promise,and a story that seeps into the mind like a potion.
Diana Gabaldon
Expertly researched,lavishly detailed and lushly atmosphere so vivid you can smell it,and remarkably striking characters.
Kelley Armstrong
A spellbinding tale with a truly enchanting heroine.
Tampa Tribune
Darkly erotic...lavishly told...Prepare to put your life on hold for 468 pages and immerse yourself.
Publishers Weekly
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) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
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. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Debut supernatural vampire/witch superdrama whose lesson seems to be that sex is better when (1) it's a sin, (2) it hurts, and (3) it involves barely adolescent girls. Our nameless narrator of variable gender starts as the prize pupil in a generic European girls' prep school, but it's not long before she's dabbling in sexual experimentation with a classmate. Merde! She discovers that she likes being struck, that she ejaculates "nightsalt" in wet dreams, etc. The school administrators accuse her of being a demon and lock her up, conveniently, in Satan's library. She thinks to kill herself when she learns that she will be tried at the hands of—double-merde!—men, but then she realizes that she really is a witch and maybe it's not so bad. After all, she gets to have sex with a demon priest who had once been burned at the stake (no biggie), and is soon introduced to four demon saviors, who tutor her but also need her help to escape their mortal coils. She also learns that she might not be strictly female after all, but nevertheless engages in a sexual relationship with a servant named Romeo while she reads the shadow books of her saviors (the Cliff's Notes of witchdom) and prepares to write her own. She eventually helps her demon pals escape, becomes a man, and sails off to America. Mon Dieu! More often than not, the author seems to be performing self-therapy on his own fixation with lesbian witches. But demons arguing Aristotle and Plato do not save prose whose intent is only to titillate. Fear may be exciting, and pain may be secretly enjoyable, but when young girls refer to their vaginas as "nether mouths" it seems nothing more than garden-variety porn. Harry Potter for oversexed Wiccafreaks. Masochists, hermaphrodites and nun-fetishists unite!
Washington Post Book World
“Vivid characters...painstaking research...delectable.”
New Orleans Times-Picayune
“[A] very enjoyable debut...lush prose...sensual description, vivid sex scenes.”
“Dark, mysterious, sumptuous, lusty, and other in style and allusion, both literary and historical.”
Orlando Sentinel
“Meticulously crafted and thoroughly enchanting. . . .A work of imaginative wizardry.”
The Jackson Clarion-Ledger
“A sweeping narrative of period and peril [that] transports the reader into an undiscovered realm of erotica...”
Anne Rice
“It’s marvelous to have one so eloquent exploring and transcending the gothic genre.”

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Book of Shadows, The

Chapter One

Early Life, Such as It Was

In 1812, I went to "the Stone," the holy house at C___, a village straddling the ill-drawn borders of Brittany and Normandy, dependent upon the grace of the Church. For the next twelve long years, the nuns who had taken me in made it plain: if I lived cleanly, devoutly, as they did, I might one day see the face of God.... But no; lately I've seen only Satan. The sweet girlish faces of Satan.... Ah, but I don't mean to self-dramatize; I mean only to situate you, Reader, and so...

My world was the domain of C___, its sloping fields bounded by picket fences and, beyond, hedges and waves of mounded stones. That place was comprised of a series of outbuildings surrounding three larger, two-story buildings conjoined by galleries, some shuttered, others open. It was hewn of darkly mottled stone and gray slate. Surrounded by tall stands of deciduous evergreens, the place seemed to leech the very light from the sky.

Set loosely at right angles, and forming an inner yard at the center of which rose a statue of the Sacred Heart, the three main buildings were these: St. Ursula's Hall, a large and featureless space sometimes used for assembly, beneath which were the kitchen and dining hall; the dormitory, set above a bank of classrooms, nuns' cells, and offices as well as our Pupil's Parlor, where the girls received their visitors; and the third building, which housed the main chapel, Our Lady of Prompt Succor, as well as the sisters' chapel, the main library, and several lesser libraries. Beyond the chapel sat the dairy and the stables. Beyond the stables was a graveyard, where we buried our dead in private. Too, there was the laundry, a dovecote, a carpenter's shop, a smithy, and the building known as the Annex, which sat empty and unused all my years at C___. White pickets formed our inner borders; and it was within these pickets that we girls, twice daily, surrounded the Sacred Heart to take our exercise. The youngest girls formed an inner circle, so near the statue as to see our Lord's incarnadine heart amid the marble folds of His robes. If the weather was fair, it was in the yard, thusly circling our Savior, that we would stand with arms akimbo, bending at the waist, doing this and that, careful always to keep one foot firmly planted on the ground, "as befits a lady." In winter, we would crowd under the galleries and stretch and bend as best we could. My position in these drills was fixed: I had always to stand nearest the kitchen, lest Sister Brigid need me for some duty therein.

Understand: I was the sole scholarship student at C___, and I was made to work for my keep. Usually in the kitchen, sometimes in the laundry or gardens. Though Sister Isadore ran the Lower School, and Sister Claire de Sazilly the Upper (both answering to Mother Superior Marie-des-Anges), it was to old, enfeebled Sister Brigid that I reported. I loved her; she was kind. Kind too was the extern I knew from an early age, Marie-Edith, who came to C___ from the village thrice weekly to help with meals; she also did our shopping, as the sisters were suspect of all worldly commerce. Indeed, it was I who lately taught Marie-Edith to read in my room off the kitchen.... Yes, I lived apart, at Sister Brigid's request, and I did not mind. The cellarer, Sister Margarethe, however, did mind: not only did I occupy her pantry but I deprived her of the root cellar dug into its floor and covered over with boards. Though it was barren and cold in winter and damp in summer, with its walls in constant sweat, the room suited me. It was private; and it was privacy I craved above all else. No novitiates came to see that my Bible lay beneath my pillow as I slept. No one woke me harshly at first light. Neither did the candles I burned through the night attract attention. And, blessedly, a pump sat just outside the kitchen door, and it was from this that I drew my bath water, bathing alone behind my closed door.

Not only did I have to work for my keep — and countless were the potatoes peeled, the corn shucked, the fish scaled and gutted... — I had to succeed academically. If I did not — and this was intimated, if never stated — I might be sent away to an orphanage or some lesser facility of the Ursulines.

And so I became an excellent reader at an early age. In time, no text was beyond me. And the books at C___.... So many wondrous works, though I remember too some particularly hateful theology and sheaves of impenetrable poetry.... I was perhaps ten when I began to study Greek under the tutelage of Sister Marie de Montmercy. I immersed myself in the language; but only until I discovered Latin, to which my allegiance shifted. Here was the language for me! So sensible, the construction of its sentences as satisfying as a puzzle perfectly done. I don't mean to say that I rambled about C___ with Aeschylus and Cicero tripping off my tongue, but fluency did come in time. Additionally, there were the hours devoted to the perfection of our French, of course — and her sisters, Italian and Spanish. I worked diligently on English and German in private; quite similar, the two, though I loved the myriad exceptions of the former and detested the guttural rattlings of the latter. For this, I relied solely on texts and guesswork, for none of the nuns spoke English and only one spoke German (ancient Sister Gabriella, as likely to nod off as to assist me with the nuances of pronunciation).

Mathematics, penmanship, geography.... These were easy and unexciting subjects, which I easily mastered...

Book of Shadows, The. Copyright © by James Reese. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are saying about this

Anne Rice
“It’s marvelous to have one so eloquent exploring and transcending the gothic genre.”
Diana Gabaldon
“Expertly researched, lavishly detailed and lushly atmosphere so vivid you can smell it, and remarkably striking characters.”
Kelley Armstrong
“A spellbinding tale with a truly enchanting heroine.”
Caleb Carr
“A novelist of immense talent and promise, and a story that seeps into the mind like a potion.”

Meet the Author

James Reese is the author of The Witchery, The Book of Spirits, and The Book of Shadows. He lives in South Florida and Paris, France.

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Book of Shadows 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Katya_Sozaeva More than 1 year ago
I'd like to address the various negative reviews I've seen; many people have complained about the eroticism of this book. While there are indeed some sensual scenes, they are much milder than in many books I have read. I think the main problem that people have is with the bisexual aspect of it. If that will bother you, then this is obviously not a book you should read. (You should also avoid anything by Gary Jennings) Other people complained that the book was too long, too detailed, boring. This dumbfounds me - the details bring this book to life; the story flows smoothly and I was not ready for the book to end. True, those with the shortened attention span brought on by watching too much TV would probably have trouble with this book, but I expect more from readers. Nevertheless, each person is entitled to his or her own opinion, so let me give you mine - it's better than yours ... ;-) "The Book of Shadows" is a voyage of discovery for young Herculine, who was orphaned at a young age (she thinks she was 5 or 6) and raised in a convent/boarding school by nuns and among the young ladies being trained there upon the wishes of their families. Herculine never felt a sense of belonging - instead, feeling like an outsider. Shy, withdrawn, and quiet, Herculine had few friends. Then the arrival of Peronette, the Mother Superior's niece, threw everything into disarray. Soon Herculine is accused of witchcraft. Locked into one of the convent's libraries overnight, Herculine is close to despair when a group of people - a succubus, an incubus, a demon and a witch - arrive and help Herculine to escape. Herculine IS a witch, and Sebastiana D'Azur - the witch who rescues Herculine - starts to instruct Herculine on some of the aspects of the Craft. I won't go any more into the story than that, so as to avoid any spoilers. Herculine is a very complex character and one I enjoyed getting to know. Sebastiana is a somewhat mysterious character - we learn much of her, but there is much we do not know. Father Louis and Madeline are incubus and succubus, and dis-incarnate. They can take form, but it takes energy to do so. Finally, Asmodei (who is really quite a jerk) is believed by Sebastiana to be a descendant of the demon Asmodeus. As I stated above, the story flowed smoothly and, for me, it was a relatively quick read. I'd have been done sooner if it weren't that I've been feeling poorly and had to spend so much time sleeping. I found the details to be lush and vibrant, the story coming alive for me in a way few stories have. If you do not feel you would be offended by the few sex scenes (which, again, are pretty tame compared to, say, a romance novel - the only difference is the occasional bisexual aspects of it) and you enjoy a tale of growth and self-discovery, I think you'd like this story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It starts off a little slow, but once it gets going a few chapters in, it really turns into a page turner. James Reese has a unique way of writing that makes you actually visualize everything as it's described. I highly recommend this book. I'm working on the sequel now, "The Book of Spirits". I'll let you know how that one turns out. :)
Guest More than 1 year ago
This first novel from the author is a chilling blend of history, suspense and mesmerizing detail. The settings and the character descriptions will keep the pages turning. I must warn some of the graphic content in some scenes...often of a violent and sexual nature. Hopefully, when you get to the ending, you will also be looking for more from Herculine's 'Book of Shadows.'
Guest More than 1 year ago
Very imaginative storyline with vivid descriptions and philisophical view. I really enjoyed this book, though it was also a little disturbing. All in all I would definately say anyone who enjoy's the occult and or history will love this book. I myself have read it four times.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Liked this book-- but felt Reese borrowed from everything (this is a well-read gentleman) even a 30-year old suicidal hermaphrodite named Herculine Barbin to tell this story. In some ways over-wrought and semi-plagiaristic, but mostly a wild ride. Panting for a sequel. Reese left Herculine too innocent, we are waiting to meet a witch a little less . . . chaste.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read many books in my time and I can't say that I ever wanted one not to end like I did with The Book of Shadows. From the very first page I became intrigued with Herculine's tale and the more I continued to read the more intrigued I became. All I can say is give me more. I wait on bended knees for a follow up to Herculine's extra-ordinary life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book not only captivated, intrigued and immersed you in the world of Herculine, but it gave off the presence of magic itself. I've read many a book, but this one I could not put down, I read it in one sitting jumping from scene to scene, plot to plot, taking in the well built characters and their quarks and eccentricities. The book can only be epitomized as one of Sebastiana's works!
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Time flies when you're having fun,' or so they say. That is very true for this novel. Once taken in by the superb language, incredible detail, and unbelievable imagery I couldn't put it down! Anyone with a passion for the gothic genre wil trully love this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Lushly descriptive and with excellent narrative. After the first hundred pages, I truly felt I was there, with the characters. I look forward to Mr. Reese's continuing tales.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After the enjoyment I received reading this page turner, all I can say is "When is the next book in this story coming out...??"
Guest More than 1 year ago
*The Book of Shadows* a compelling novel by first-time author James Reese. This supernatural adventure takes place in and around the French Revolution. The locations are lush with imagination, the characters are so fully drawn they seem to live and breathe on the pages. Filled with witches and ghosts, spiced just enough with some steamy passionate scenes, readers will not be able to put this story down. A very unusual tale about a young woman trying to find her place in the world.
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brjunkie More than 1 year ago
Fans of 'The Witching Hour' will fully appreciate this book. It is a wonderful story with such a realistic history and accuracy that will enchant you until the end. However, the authors technique of providing entertaining background of his wildly imaginative characters with the story line needs some development to flow better. I am looking forward to the sequel of this novel, which I feel will provide the reader with more action and drama. I gave this book a rating of 3 stars when I feel that it actually deserves 3 1/2 stars.
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