(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Italy 1899: Fiery-tempered, seductive medium Alessandra Poverelli levitates a table at a Spiritualist séance in Naples. A reporter photographs the miracle, and wealthy, skeptical, Jewish psychiatrist Camillo Lombardi arrives in Naples to investigate. When she materializes the ghost of his dead mother, he risks his reputation and fortune to finance a tour of the Continent, challenging the scientific and academic elite of Europe to test Alessandra’s mysterious powers. She will help him rewrite Science. His fee will help her escape her sadistic husband Pigotti and start a new life in Rome. Newspapers across Europe trumpet her Cinderella story and baffling successes, and the public demands to know – does the “Queen of Spirits” really have supernatural powers? Nigel Huxley is convinced she’s simply another vulgar, Italian trickster. The icy, aristocratic detective for England’s Society for the Investigation of Mediums launches a plot to trap and expose her. Meanwhile, the Vatican is quietly digging up her childhood secrets, desperate to discredit her supernatural powers; her abusive husband Pigotti is coming to kill her; and the tarot cards predict catastrophe. Inspired by the true-life story of controversial Italian medium Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918), The Witch of Napoli masterfully resurrects the bitter,19th-century battle between Science and religion over the possibility of an afterlife.
[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
One of the many things Michael Schmicker does well in The Witch of Napoli is bring to life the late Victorian era. He brings to life the grubbiness and beauty of Italy’s cities and its countryside. He absolutely captures the obsession with bringing the scientific method into every aspect of life that used to be taken for granted, particularly the spiritual side of life. And best of all, he captures the individual struggles and triumphs of his various characters beautifully. Even if you don’t like the narrator, Tomaso, you will find at least one character to love and for me that was Alessandra herself.
Alessandra is a fiery woman who believes absolutely in the spirits she summons. She’s opinionated and she doesn’t take kindly to insults, perceived or real. And because of her fiery temper, she is also passionate in both love and hatred. Her story is fabulous and she really does grow as a charcter throughout the novel. Despite the fact her story is told through Tomaso’s eyes (the young reporter and photographer who follows her around), Alessandra herself is never secondary. There are a lot of times her personality outshines Tomaso’s, although that may just be from my perspective. Don’t get me wrong—Tomaso is not a bad or even a boring character. It’s just that Alessandra absolutely outshines him. Tomaso goes from a wide-eyed young man to a somewhat cynical, yet hopeful man who learns to find his way in life.
The plot is not exactly fast-paced but Michael Schmicker’s writing style is beautiful and he lavishes time on character development. At the same time, there are many interesting plots and subplots and some pretty terrifying scenes when Alessandra calls on the spirits. So it’s an interesting book but it’s not fast-paced. The only reason I was somewhat disappointed in this book is that the ending was very unsatisfying. I would have loved for a less abrupt conclusion, even though I knew that such a conclusion was inevitable. The abrupt ending just leaves you rather empty in comparison to the rest of the novel, which spends more time on most major plot points. It’s not enough to make me dislike the plot as a whole but it was a little disappointing after the masterful twists and turns that were well explained earlier in the book.
In the end, The Witch of Napoli is an amazing book that fell a little flat in the end. There are some absolutely amazing charcters and great plot twists in addition to a beautiful writing style. I would absolutely still recommend it to anyone who loves a taste of the supernatural in their novels or anyone who just loves an amazing main character.
I give this book 4/5 stars.