Season of the Witch

I have always been a fan of gothic fiction, from Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire to Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Anything with vampires, witches, ghosts and Byron have always held a terrible fascination for me. I even subscribed to the now sadly defunct The Gothic Society when I was at school.

Natasha Mostert’s Season of the Witch caught my attention by the title alone. I wasn’t really expecting much from the novel as recently my share of gothic fiction has been rather lean and not too satisfying. But I was aware of the buzz it was creating in the blogosphere and when I chanced upon it in my local library, I couldn’t resist (notice I got it from the library rather than a bookshop, good girl.)

And…it exceeded my expectations considerably. It was the perfect mixture of the modern (hacking, cybertheft) and the ancient (Hermes Trismegistus, memory palaces). It also felt very comforting as it brought back memories of my graduate studies in the history and philosophy of science when I had to do masses of reading on alchemy and magic. Fascinating stuff. I am impressed with Mostert. She wears her erudition lightly and spins a great yarn. The structure of the novel itself was slightly off convention. There’s a mystery, a death, investigation and finally a solution, but that’s not all. She keeps throwing new surprises at you and you keep reading because you want to know what happens next. Very nice.

The novel begins with Gabriel Blackstone, a cyberthief and hacker, being asked to look for his ex’s missing step-son Robert. Robert has been keeping company with two beautiful and enigmatic sisters, Minnaloushe and Morrighan Monk. The Monk sisters are accomplished, fiercely intelligent and mysterious, and they dabble in alchemy. Gabriel also has an unconventional skill: remote viewing where he can hitch a ride in another person’s mind and experiences. He befriends the two sisters and before he knows it is drawn into their world, slowly falling in love. However, one of them is a killer. But which one? As he is drawn deeper into their world, he finds himself treading in the footsteps of Robbie, and into danger.

I can’t really say much more without giving the story away, and I so don’t want to because it is a great story and I recommend that you read it yourself. Mostert brings in fascinating history and theories about the mind, the esoteric and for me, most fascinating of all was the idea of memory palaces. Giordano Bruno, John Dee, all are there. There is a love story which never becomes cloying and you will also become fascinated with the Monk sisters. And what enchanting names they have.

The great thing about reading Season of the Witch was that it made me want to go out and read more about the various subjects Mostert introduces. For me, it was a truly thrilling ride.

If you want to know more about Mostert, you can visit her website here.

R.I.P. IV Challenge!

25 August, 2009


So two challenges in a month? Well, it’s not too bad. I have six months to read the books for the Japanese Literary Challenge 3 and two months for the R.I.P. IV Challenge. And I went to the library today and brought back a bagful of mysteries and thrillers so no excuse for me! I’m really excited about this challenge because mysteries are my FAVOURITE kind of books. I’ve been following Stainless Steel Droppings‘ blog for several months now and didn’t realise until now that he was the host for the Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) IV Challenge. I’ve read many good things about this challenge in a lot of book blogs and have seen how excited everyone is about it. And how beautiful is this banner? So I’ve put my name down for it and can’t wait to start. Oh wait, I’ve already started reading my book while I was waiting for my take-away curry (I know, it’s only Tuesday but I’m already treating myself.)

I will be participating in the Peril the Second RIP Challenge: I need to read two books in one of the RIP subgenres (mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic, horror, supernatural) by 31 October 2009.

The two books I have in mind are:
The Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert
The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas

If I finish them with time to spare I might also try one of the following:
The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard
The Vein of Deceit by Susanna Gregory
Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino

So wish me luck. I’m also three quarters of the way through Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami and it’s still keeping me guessing. Brilliant stuff.