In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, Herculine is summoned from self-imposed exile by her teacher, the witch Sebastiana d'Azur, and told to sail from the Florida territory to Havana. There she is to search out one Queverdo Brù—a cruel and demonic man whose house holds terrible secrets—to learn of a certain "surprise." But lies and truths conspire to separate Herculine from those she loves, and she finds herself alone with Brù, who sees in her something he has long sought, and now seeks to use, harshly, as he practices that most ancient of arts: alchemy.
Escaping Brù, Herculine sails from Havana, knowing Sebastiana is near. In the Florida Keys, she reunites with her and meets her "surprise"—the shocking product of a forbidden encounter ten years prior. Surviving an Indian attack on a sparsely settled key, Herculine and family decamp to Key West. There they set out to make their fortune—by means magical or otherwise—as Herculine is tested at every turn by the harsh landscape and haunted by thoughts of her own demise.
With The Witchery, James Reese brings to a close a remarkable trilogy—a story told by a character who "invades our consciousness" (Tampa Tribune) and set in "the heady atmosphere of a bygone era brought deftly to life" (Eric Van Lustbader). Spanning decades ravaged by war, disease, and ideals that tore a nation apart, Herculine's ultimately triumphant struggle is both a universal one—marked by love, loss, fear, and regret—and yet quite particular, as told by one of the most inventive novelists working today.
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.