(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Possession. Power. Passion. New York Times bestselling novelist M. J. Rose creates her most provocative and magical spellbinder yet in this gothic novel set against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris.
Sandrine Salome flees New York for her grandmother’s Paris mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires.
Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten—her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s become possessed by La Lune: A witch, a legend, and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse.
This is Sandrine’s “wild night of the soul,” her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love, and witchery.
[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook as part of the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]
A while back in May 2014 I was on the blog tour for M. J. Rose’s book The Collector of Dying Breaths and I absolutely loved it. The characters were fantastic, the writing was so beautiful it was hard to describe and the plot twisted and turned so much that I just had to keep reading. Needless to say I had high expectations for this stand-alone novel The Witch of Painted Sorrows.
My high expectations were absolutely exceeded and this book is one of the rare cases where the cover is just as good as the actual content. It gives away the atmosphere of the novel just wonderfully: beautiful but haunting. It’s so rare that an author can keep that atmosphere up throughout the novel even if it’s only in the background during some scenes but M. J. Rose certainly managed to do that. Throughout Sandrine’s journey we experience her hopes, her joys and her sorrows as her life in Paris goes from fairly regular to extraordinary. I’m not generally a fan of Gothic novels in part because few authors can keep up the haunted atmosphere but Rose definitely did. Through her beautifully descriptive writing I experienced everything from the bustling streets of Paris to the hidden corners of an ancient and seemingly cursed house. I know I keep using the word beautiful to describe her writing, but there really is no other word that does it justice. She’s able to evoke complex emotions in the simplest of phrases, to appeal to all your senses at once, particularly smell. I can honestly say that I’ve never had an author describe things so vividly before.
Sandrine is a wonderful main character. At first she’s a lonely woman escaping a loveless marriage and the knowledge that her father’s death was the fault of her hated husband. She’s lived a life of immense privilege but has never really known happiness until she comes to Paris to reconnect with her grandmother, a famous courtesan. When she meets her grandmother’s architect Julien and discovers that her grandmother intends to turn the Maison de la Lune into a mere tourist attraction, things start to get weird. First she discovers that she’s actually attracted to Julien and possibly even loves him, something she’s never experienced before in her entire life. Second, her grandmother starts acting weird when she learns that Sandrine is spending her time at La Lune’s house and tries to nip her growing attraction to Julien in the bud. Then, when Sandrine discovers the secret room in the maison, the tension starts to ratchet up in ever increasing notches. Throughout the novel Sandrine really grows as a character but when she discovers the secret of La Lune she really comes into her own, bucking society’s expectations of her spectacularly and asserting her independence. But there’s of course a more sinister reason behind Sandrine’s personality change that starts to spiral out of control as Sandrine spends more and more time in the secret room with La Lune’s paintings.
Simply put, The Witch of Painted Sorrows is a book you’ll never really be able to put down until you finish it. Not only does M. J. Rose know how to keep up the Gothic novel atmosphere, she also knows how to slowly introduce tension and gradually increase it until you’re unable to put the book down. You’ll think to yourself: “one more chapter, just one more” and then it’ll be three in the morning and you’re just finishing the book twenty chapters later. It’s incredibly hard to put down not only because her pacing is good and the suspense is constant but because the plot twists and turns quite spectacularly. Just when you think you know what’s going to happen in the end, Rose puts another twist in the plot. By the last few chapters I was fairly certain what the ending was going to be but the rest of the book was fairly unpredictable and I have to give her credit for that.
Basically, this novel will suck you in and not let you go until you’ve finished. You’ll be drawn in by the suspense and the beautiful writing but it’s the fantastic and dynamic characters that will keep you reading on into the early morning hours. It’s hard not to fall in love with a novel like this, that’s for sure. And that’s also why I can’t recommend this book highly enough: if the blurb has in any way intrigued you, go and buy the book on March 17 of this year. You won’t regret it.
I give this book 5/5 stars.