Author: M.J. Rose
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 19th Century / UK / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Dual Narrative / Contemporary / Reincarnation)
Publisher/Publication Date: Atria (5/7/2013)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: The shadowy island of Jersey is home to a family plagued by spirits, the memories of past lives, and the legacy of Victor Hugo's conversations with beings from another realm.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: Adore it! Love the colors, the model, the fonts...
I'm reminded of...: Alma Katsu
First line: Every story begins with a tremble of anticipation.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you like a good summer beach read that has history, mood, intrigue, and a hint of the paranormal.
Why did I get this book?: I was very curious about the Victor Hugo plotline.
Review: Rose's novels are great summertime thrillers, mixing history and intrigue with a hint of something possibly paranormal-ish (reincarnation). In this one, she slightly changes up her formula to focus on a famed historical figure -- French novelist Victor Hugo -- and brings back a character from her previous book, Jac L’Etoile, mythologist.
Alternating between Victor's story and Jac's, Rose's novel focuses on the dangerous and, well, seductive appeal of the otherworldly realm. In 1855, Victor Hugo is living with his family on the Channel Islands in the UK, despondent over the accidental death of his daughter Leopoldine. A friend convinces the Hugos to attempt a seance -- all the rage in Europe -- and an addiction is born. Consumed with the conversations he believes he's having with spirits from another realm, Hugo transcribes the secrets and stories he learns.
In contemporary Jersey, mythologist Jac L’Etoile is researching Celtic legends with her pseudo-therapist acquaintance Malachai. (Malachai and his Phoenix Foundation are the recurrent characters in Rose's Reincarnationist series; one need not read the previous books to dive into the newer ones, although I recommend The Book of Lost Fragrances first as it introduces Jac's story.) Jac gets to know the Gaspard family, all of whom have been touched in some way by the melancholy moodiness of Jersey and the specter of seances, spirit-calling, and terrible family secrets; in particular, she has a complicated history with the widower Theo.
What I've always enjoyed about Rose's novels is that they are very readable. The myths she focuses on, the theme of reincarnation, and the rather complicated plot lines all fall out nicely and neatly in her hands. I can keep the characters straight even though there's always a handful, and I am never overwhelmed by infodumps or backstory. One need not buy into any of her premises -- or even believe in reincarnation -- to enjoy her stories, and as always, her books make me wish there was such a place as the Phoenix Institute where I could plumb the possibility of my past lives.
A quick, engrossing summer-y read, with enough meat to keep you focused and enough drama to make you feel like you're on vacation!