The Witcheryby James Reese
New York Times bestselling author James Reese has been praised for his lush and evocative prose, his bold exploration of illicit sexuality, his deft handling of historical settings, and his extraordinary rendering of the supernatural. His novels are sumptuous trips back in time to an era filled with unforgettable characters, human strife, and emotions that/em>… See more details below
New York Times bestselling author James Reese has been praised for his lush and evocative prose, his bold exploration of illicit sexuality, his deft handling of historical settings, and his extraordinary rendering of the supernatural. His novels are sumptuous trips back in time to an era filled with unforgettable characters, human strife, and emotions that transcend time. Now, in his most imaginative book to date, Reese takes the witch Herculine on a voyage that will test her in every way, elevating her from the depths of despair to triumph.
In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, Herculine is summoned from self-imposed exile by her teacher, the witch Sebastiana d'Azur, and told to sail from the Florida territory to Havana. There she is to search out one Queverdo Brù—a cruel and demonic man whose house holds terrible secrets—to learn of a certain "surprise." But lies and truths conspire to separate Herculine from those she loves, and she finds herself alone with Brù, who sees in her something he has long sought, and now seeks to use, harshly, as he practices that most ancient of arts: alchemy.
Escaping Brù, Herculine sails from Havana, knowing Sebastiana is near. In the Florida Keys, she reunites with her and meets her "surprise"—the shocking product of a forbidden encounter ten years prior. Surviving an Indian attack on a sparsely settled key, Herculine and family decamp to Key West. There they set out to make their fortune—by means magical or otherwise—as Herculine is tested at every turn by the harsh landscape and haunted by thoughts of her own demise.
With The Witchery, James Reese brings to a close a remarkable trilogy—a story told by a character who "invades our consciousness" (Tampa Tribune) and set in "the heady atmosphere of a bygone era brought deftly to life" (Eric Van Lustbader). Spanning decades ravaged by war, disease, and ideals that tore a nation apart, Herculine's ultimately triumphant struggle is both a universal one—marked by love, loss, fear, and regret—and yet quite particular, as told by one of the most inventive novelists working today.
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By James Reese
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
It is a melancholy of mine own, compounded by many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness.
--Shakespeare, As You Like It
What a sight: Havana Harbor seen by late daylight.
I remember it well; for indeed we arrived at sunset, and sadly heard it told that we hadn't time to enter the harbor before dark. This the firing cannons of the Morro Castle made clear: the harbor, indeed the city itself, was closed till next the sun rose. It was slight consolation hearing our captain opine that it was just as well, that the harbor would be too crowded to navigate at night. And so we found a good offing within sight of the Morro's walls, near enough to hear the bells of the city count out the quarter hours; and there we lay off and on all night, tacking in accord with the winds and the water.
For hours I'd watched the silver-green isle of Cuba rising from the blue, ever more anxious yet knowing not that the Athée--aboard which we'd sailed from Savannah--was racing the setting sun. Had I known this, had I known that each evening the Morro's cannons announced that crepuscular closing of the harbor and city, I'd have been sick from nervous upset; for though I'd been sent to Havana, I had only the vaguest notion of what, ofwho I'd find there.
Would Sebastiana d'Azur--my discoverer, my Soror Mystica, who'd absented herself for so long, who'd cast away her courtly renown after the Revolution and retired to her crumbling chateau upon the Breton shore-- . . . would Sebastiana herself be there? Who was the "we" of whom the aged witch had written so cryptically? We have a surprise for you, said the letter sent to me in St. Augustine. Would I have to face again Sebastiana's consort: the man, the menace, the faux demon Asmodei? He who'd hated me from first sight. He who'd sought to harm me. Oh, but Sebastiana's absence had surprised me once before, had it not? In New York. In years past. When I--so deeply needful, so lost--had gone thither, as again she'd directed, by post, only to find yet another epistle apologizing for her absence and consigning me to the care of a houseful of whoring witches. (Mistake me not, sister: I loved the Cyprians, and still mourn their loss and the dissolution of the Duchess's House of Delights.) More likely I, nay, we--yes: I had a companion aboard the Athée-- . . . more likely we would walk alone among the Havanans with no clue but one: Somewhere in the city there lived a monk whom Sebastiana, in her directing letter, had identified by the single initial Q.
And so, though I knew not what, or who I would find in Havana, still I hoped to find such things fast. Thus, each wave separating the schooner Athée from its mooring in Havana Harbor was a hated thing. . . . But mark, for so it was the case: the waves had been few as we approached over the Straits, and our six-day sail from Savannah had been smooth, too smooth and slow: often we'd been becalmed, and had lain in want of wind.
Finally, finally all aboard knew the sight of the Pan de Matanzas--that Cuban mountain molded by a great hand in mimicry of a loaf of bread--and nearer, nearer there could be seen sown fields of cane and coffee bordered by tall, wind-waltzing palms. Nearer still, and the lighthouse could be discerned in detail, so, too, the forts of the Morro and Punta flanking the harbor's entrance: like fists of stone they were, wrapped round the harbor's narrow neck and seeming to strangle the inlet. And beyond, faint as my fate, the city itself climbed the hillsides: buildings in pastel shades, showing roofs of reddish tile.
The Athée's sails had been unfurled to steal from those swaying palms what winds there were; and we beat toward the harbor as best we could, forsaking the changeable hues of the Gulf Stream for the sapphirine seas nearer the island. I imagine now that we truly hurried; for our captain must have known that the harbor would close come dark. By the light of a low, westering sun, flying fish rose beside us: silvery knives they seemed, hurled shoreward by the hand of Neptune. Seabirds were ten times more numerous, now we were nearer land. Gulls cried, and signed their chalky Xs on the slate of the sky. . . . So near, yes; but it was then, with the gulls wheeling overhead, that we aboard the Athée saw a schooner on the opposite tack make for the harbor even as the signals were dropped and the first cannon fired. Of course, I concluded the worst: here were pirates, espied by the Cuban guard and now taking shot. But no: my companion--even more anxious than I to debark, surely--passed to me the dire news had from the captain just as the lighthouse spun to cast its first beam upon the sea: the city was closing.
And so it was that, our suit for entry refused, the Athée bobbed another night at sea. Suddenly I found myself in possession of the thing I wanted least of all: long starlit hours to worry about what was to come, and to worry about what we'd done; for yes, a crime had been committed, such that we--the crew and cast of the Athée--were now one fewer than we'd been when setting sail from Savannah. Of course, none but Calixto and I knew the why, the when, the how of the crime that had been committed: murder.
Indeed, we two wanted off the Athée come dawn; and all that starry, windless night I sat wondering how best to achieve this. How best to avoid the captain, and Cuban customs, and the inquisition sure to come?
Excerpted from The Witchery
by James Reese
Copyright © 2006 by James Reese.
Excerpted by permission.
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