Possession. Power. Passion. New York Times bestselling novelist M. J. Rose creates her most provocative and magical spellbinder yet in this gothic novel set against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris.
Sandrine Salome flees New York for her grandmother’s Paris mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires.
Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten—her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s become possessed by La Lune: A witch, a legend, and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse.
M.J. Rose’s prose has a very descriptive style that lends itself to the historical period that she tends to write in. It was easy to get lost in Paris with Sandrine, her main character. This is the second book that I’ve read from this author, and enjoyed it so much….
If I noticed anything about this author’s particular style is that she loves to write about not just what the character is seeing or feeling, but also what they are smelling. She has a thing for describing scents, whether it is what is in the air or how a person smells. She must have researched the science behind perfume and psychological aspect of scents and smells, because she loves taking her time with it in a scene.
Here is excerpt from Chapter 4 describing Sandrine’s first time meeting Julien:
I lifted the knocker again and let it drop. A few moments passed. I heard footsteps, and then the door opened.
At my back I felt an odd little gentle push of wind, as if even the winter breeze knew where I belonged and wanted to help me inside.
I took a step forward.
“Yes?” A man was looking at me curiously.
I once read that there can be meetings between kindred spirits with whom you are so simpatico, your blood and your bones know it before you do. You come upon someone, and your very chemistry alters. You shift. Realign. Your senses become alert to sights and sounds and scents that eluded you just moments before.
“Can I help you?” was what he said, but I heard something far more complicated, a kind of harmony of chords and tones that resonated within me, and I was confused.
I could smell his scent: a mixture of amber, honey, and apples mixed with his own skin’s oils and the brisk winter air. Something deep inside me responded to the fragrance. I felt as if I could lose myself in it. Wrap it around me like a cashmere shawl and be forever warmed.
I did not even slightly understand the rush of sensations I was feeling. I’d never experienced this before. If I had understood what actually was happening, I might have turned and ran, or so I’d like to believe. If I had would be so different now. But we don’t have the ability to retrieval time and change our decisions. I knew then and know still that no matter what the price, I never wanted to stop peering into those clear evergreen eyes and inhaling that heady scent. It did not occur to me to turn and leave. I wanted to be right where I was, to go inside and revisit the house that I had never stopped dreaming of for the last ten years.
Sandrine and Julien’s relationship is complicated by the fact that he is engaged to an opera singer whose father is supporting Julian’s career as an up and coming architect. It is not unusual to have affairs in this time period with married people. In fact, Sandrine’s grandmother has a business of entertaining men in her home for money, gifts of jewels and art. It’s a business that’s carried on by all of the women in Sandrine’s family. Their portraits hang in hallways of their home.
Her grandmother doesn’t want Sandrine to be a part of the family business, and is not happy that Sandrine has come to Paris and wants to stay. Sandrine hides her relationship with Julien and her new talent to draw and paint from her.
In fact, Sandrine hides her identity of being female to attend a prestigious art school. When Julien and Sandrine discover a hidden room in her family home, Maison de La Lune, she is transformed into a more sensual woman who wants to explore art, love and sex. I loved the intimates scenes with Sandrine and Julien. Very beautifully done.
Another excerpt from Chapter 24:
“Don’t be afraid, Mademoiselle. You are gifted, and such a talent comes with manifestations we don’t always understand. They say demons are not real, but we know differently, don’t we?”
“Aren’t demons evil?”
“In our sphere, the way we are taught, they could be classified as evil, but is our way of seeing things always correct? We are viewing it from inside our circle. What if we stepped into the spirit’s sphere and looked at us from that same distance. Perhaps we would be evil and they would be goodness. Don’t judge, Mademoiselle. Live to paint. Paint to live. It may be the only open to you.”
I took in his words, not sure I even understood them.
“And please don’t pretend anymore with me in class, at the Louvre or here. Even if we cannot explain how or why your talent is exploding, you must not dam it up. Mallarme’, the poet, wrote, ‘Let the window be art, the mystical experience.’ I want you to show me what you see through the window, Mademoiselle. You must be brave and you must be dark, or you will never be great.”
When her grandmother finds out that Sandrine has been painting and staying in the family home, she loses her mind with worry for her granddaughter, so much so that she helps Sandrine’s dangerous husband when he comes to Paris looking for his wife.
Sandrine is also concerned about all of the people that die or get hurt around her. Is it the dark spirit that seems to possess her or something else out of her control? I was so caught up in the action that the ending took me by surprise. That was quite the twist!!
I give this book 4 beautiful stars, and put it on my “top shelf fantastic reads” shelf on Goodreads.
I also read M.J. Rose’s book, The Collector of Dying Breaths. There was a small connection to The Witch of Painted Sorrows, with the perfumer Rene’ le Florentin. He created a special scent for Sandrine’s grandmother. You can check out my review for that book on Goodreads here.
***I was given advanced copies of both books by M.J. Rose from Net Galley for honest reviews. All excerpts are from the ARC.***