In his first novel, the national bestselling The Book of Shadows,James Reese beguiled readers with a boldly imaginative, darkly erotic tale of awakening that introduced the captivating and deeply unusual Herculine. Now this extraordinary writer continues Herculine's incredible journey of self-discovery -- a search that will lead her into a world of shadows and perils, where she will taste the forbidden and find redemption.
September 1826. Taught to trust ... and to learn by a quartet of remarkable saviors, Herculine is bound for America, leaving behind a strange and violent past in France for an uncertain future in an exotic new land. Arriving in Virginia, Herculine is led by fate to Mother-of-Venus, a mysterious old slave woman who is blessed with gifts both terrifying and strange, and to a young poet named Edgar Poe who is haunted by evils of the past. Under the mystical guidance of Mammy Venus, Herculine soon calls upon her powerful legacy to rescue Celia, a beautiful, damaged slave. Landing in the coastal wilds of Florida, Celia stirs passions -- and dark, otherworldly powers -- within Herculine, propelling them into an erotic obsession that only the missing witch Sebastiana d'Azur can break.
Hope comes in a missive that will lure the desperate Herculine north, to the chaotic streets of New York and a strange, magical house in which the confused and eager witch is accepted by a band of like-minded sisters and introduced to exquisite carnal pleasures. Finally loosed from the shackles of shame and desire, Herculine heads south once again to find salvation and fulfill her destiny.
Set in a time of promise and peril, bondage and bloodshed, James Reese's lush, richly atmospheric, and beautifully told tale shatters the boundaries between the living and the dead, the magical and the ordinary, the imagined and the historical. A novel of the mind and the senses, The Book of Spirits is a mesmerizing and unforgettable work from an exceptional talent.
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About 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.
Read an Excerpt
As I watched from the wharf, my stomach went sour; for here she came, down the bouncing gangway, in a collar and chains.
They were five in the debarking party: Celia, in a violet dress, with her matching eyes of amethyst; her wrangler; and two other men who'd come aboard to carry the stretcher bearing Celia's shivering, stammering master. He called himself Hunt: a name to shield him from scandal. Tolliver Bedloe, he was; possessed of plantations on the western shore of the Chesapeake, properties in Baltimore, Annapolis, and Richmond, stock certificates in banks and incorporated companies all down the seaboard, the lot of it inherited along with herds of livestock and some two hundred slaves. Of which Celia was one.
They made their way down a steeply set plank at the bow of the boat. The stern was already aswarm with stevedores and the like, the boat's holds thrown open, pulleys and slings and ropes swung into place. The gangway was set with strips of timber, meant for footholds; but they were placed to align with a man's stride, and so it was I watched Celia stumble. Her step was stunted. She showed none of her grace. But it was the odd sway of her full skirt that told it: she was shackled at the ankle as well as the wrist.
What had she done? Yes: I'd witnessed certain acts in the cabin across from mine, but of late I'd heard not the least discord. With Bedloe growing ever sicker a touch of le mal de mer, I thought all had been quiet.
Yet here she came, enchained. The collar more like a yoke around her long, lissome neck was of canvas, stretched drum-tight upon a wooden frame; through it poked iron prongs, upraised like beckoning fingers. The manacles were of rusted iron, and glinted red in the late-day light.
Midway to the wharf, Celia raised her head slowly. Her jeweled eyes shone o'er the scene: Richmonders abuzz; bees in the hive of commerce. No one seemed to notice her. No one but me.
I stood staring, benumbed, fifty paces distant. I was all but a statue when her eyes found mine. My heart rattled the cage of my chest. My eyes fell low from habit the habits of shyness and shame and secret-keeping. Too, she simply overwhelmed me with her beauty.
I fought to raise my gaze to her; but my hand rose quickly, of its own accord, and I waved down the length of the wharf. Hello? A sort of salute? I'll say only that it was an inappropriate gesture one she did not, could not, return; but I'll excuse myself by asking: What gesture is appropriately made to one so debased? Still, I'd recognized her: she had her witness; and this seemed to content her: only then did she turn away. Once she'd descended to the wharf, I lost her, could not see her through the crowd. All was confusion; without and within.
We'd shared hardly a word, though we were twenty-nine days sailing from my homeland; from the port of Marseilles, in particular. If Celia knew me by name, it was not my true name, which is Herculine. This I'd shared with no one.
No, we'd not spoken freely, despite the fact that life at sea, in close quarters, will breed a certain ... familiarity.
There were only two cabins on the Ceremaju outfitted for comfort. These sat astern and were not intended for paying passengers, as the Ceremaju was a merchant brig. Bedloe and I had let these cabins, for reasons all our own. Our doors stood ten paces apart. Between them ran that ever dark and ill-used passageway. As I say, the doors of the cabins did not close well from within: the hardware was insufficient; and even when fastened the sea would cause the doors to clap. When first we were seaborne, often my shipmates propped their door open. This I did not do; rather, I settled some square-bottomed, blunt object at my door's base, to hold it fast ... What I mean to establish, simply, is this: I was not in a permanent crouch in the shadowed corridor, peering into a quite private space not my own. It was not like that; leastways not all the time, and not at first.
(O, there's shame in this, yes. But shame is a suit I've worn before. I'll don it again, here, in service of the truth.)
Returning to my cabin, I'd pass the pair in theirs. At first, I would but nod if noticed. I said nothing, and invited no friendship. Instead, I would return to my table, piled high with books on the Dark Arts, my manuscripts and magical paraphernalia, the lot of which I'd gathered as I'd traveled down the length of France, from the Breton shore onto the plains of Provence.
In my cabin, I read and wrote through the night, lowering my lamp as the sun rose. At dawn I'd retire to sleep away the day. I'd rise at noon or just after to take a meal seagoing fare: salt beef, or Bologna sausages and biscuits, and tea. Perhaps I'd venture topside to sample the sea air. At sunset I'd return to my cabin and arrange the night's study: ready my pens, pour my ink, refill the lamp with that malodorous whale oil; having chosen my books, I'd cut the pages of those that were unread, and arrange the lot of them. When I was not reading, I wrote. I'd set myself a mission: I'd write the story of my life, even though I was by as close a calculation as can be made not yet into my twentieth year; or so. I'd cull sense from recent, strange events; and in so doing I'd discover so I hoped who and what I was.
For I'd recently been told I was ... singular. I'd been told I had talents.
You are a man. You are a woman. You are a witch.Book of Spirits, The. Copyright © by James Reese. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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“James Reese’s startling second novel is filled with magic and heartbreak…It is a sumptuous feast for the senses.”
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