American heiress Sandrine Salome flees from New York to Paris, France, in the 1890s to escape her cruel husband. Their marriage was never a love match, but if her father had known Sandrine's husband's intent from the beginning, he would have never encouraged their union. When her father's death is listed as suicide, Sandrine knows that her husband orchestrated it, even if it wasn't his hands that ended her father's life. Hoping that her estranged grandmother, a famous French courtesan, will give her shelter in Paris, France, Sandrine escapes to the family ancestral home, arriving unexpected. But Grand-mère isn't home.
Sandrine's grandmother's neighbor finds her struggling outside their home and comes to her rescue, giving her shelter until her grandmother arrives. The neighbor explains that Grand-mère is renting an apartment while their family's home is renovated. Expecting to be welcomed by her grandmother when she arrives, Sandrine is confused when Grand-mère expresses fear, repeating her warning to Sandrine that she never should have come back to Paris, which is poison for her.
Paris is where Sandrine begins to discover who she truly is, so how can that be poison? We'll all soon find out as this suspenseful novel takes us through the darkest parts of Paris in search of the truth of her family's history.
Sandrine is a very light, timid woman who goes through a transformation as she discovers her talents and sensuality. The power and strength she has at the end of the novel is so subtly built that you'll barely remember that timid, simple but intelligent, creature we meet in the first chapters. Sandrine's intelligence is proven by her historical and art knowledge that was encouraged by her time spent collecting, archiving and perusing museums with her father, who was very much a philosopher by night in contrast to his banker by day persona. It's her father's curious nature that sets Sandrine on a path to follow her dreams.
This novel contains all the things I love about Gothic Romance as a sub-genre with enough distinction to make it fresh. The house is a predominate character, as to be expected, sometimes seeming like a living, breathing entity. Sandrine finds love with her grandmother's architect, somewhat inappropriate, but you'll continually wonder if their relationship will just be an affair, as it's not necessarily a healthy relationship, or one without obstacles that touch on some really unusual circumstances. The darkness is always looming--on the streets, in the house, sometimes in Sandrine's heart and within other people she meets.
There is a lot of darkness so if you don't enjoy occult history, this book may make you uncomfortable. It might be a book to avoid reading at night as well, because it can be intriguingly creepy. For me, the occult details were perfectly matched to carry the plot and I love creepy if it makes sense for the story. The author's research is exquisite and the facts presented are very appropriate for the beliefs of that time so even if you're not keen on the darkness, you'll still understand why it's there. It wouldn't be this story without it. Another warning, the sexuality is vivid and carries throughout much of the novel but it's not quite as explicit, or frequent, as it would be in an erotic romance, leaving some but not all to the imagination. This book is most definitely an adult novel, but that is not all it is because it's not overdone and the plot is so intricately appealing. Since this is a story that includes the history of a family of courtesans, you should expect some realistic historical content to that effect.
One element I absolutely loved was getting a glimpse at what it was like to be an artist in that era. To anyone who has studied art, you will relate philosophically with those characters and crave to paint after reading this novel. There is nothing I love more than to read about creative students in history, reminding me with their camaraderie and experiences why I've always been drawn to the arts myself.
Atria Books is becoming one of my go-to publishers for polished, unusual, as well as diverse books I anticipate. A thank you to the editors and advance readers who made my advanced review copy of this novel a joy to read. I can't wait to find another.
Filled with dark history, ancient artifacts, artists' ambience, sensuality, suspense and a most compelling characterization, THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS contains the perfect twist Gothic Romance lovers will find irresistible. I highly recommend this novel as a most unusual piece of historical fiction, combined with the ancient dark arts that will spin their magic around you, and possibly make you gasp with surprise. It might even ruffle your feathers a bit, but it's oh so good to be haunted by such a good tale.