Title: The Witch of Painted Sorrows (Daughters of La Lune #1)
Author: M. J. Rose
No. of Pages: 384
Genre: Erotica; Historical Fiction
Origins: Atria Books
Release Date: 17 March 2015
“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.
This is Sandrine’s “wild night of the soul,” her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love, and witchery.”
Thoughts on the Novel: Sandrine is a difficult character to categorize. On the one hand, she has the backbone necessary to leave her husband and even contemplate divorce, all at a time when it was unthinkable to do so. She pursues an education at the premier art school in all of Paris, even though they do not admit women as students. One could say she really does find herself in Paris and is ahead of her time when it comes to women’s rights.
Yet, Ms. Rose makes it well-known to the reader that most of Sandrine’s bold actions are not of her own making. In fact, she quite literally tells readers that this confidence is not Sandrine’s. One does not know the precise moment La Lune becomes more than a passive observer but it is obvious that it occurs fairly early into the story. All too quickly, one does not know where Sandrine’s thoughts and desires end and La Lune’s begin. While this may be the point, readers will find themselves wishing there was a bit less witch and more human to Sandrine’s character because of the glimpses of fierce independence and determination she shows when she first arrives in Paris. This knowledge diminishes everything Sandrine manages to accomplish, making her a much weaker character than one wants or expects because
Belle époque Paris is always a fascinating setting for a novel, and it does not disappoint in this one. Paris, particularly its bohemian artistic side, simply comes alive as Sandrine attends to her studies. Everything about the city, from its food to its air, is bright and intense, making Paris a true siren’s song. Separate from that though is Sandrine’s past and immediate present. Her worries about her estranged husband and the constant checks she does to remain hidden from his search seemingly have no place in such a vibrant city. Those moments when Sandrine’s past haunts her are jarring because of how grey and utterly opposite they are compared to her present.
The story itself is equally puzzling. First, there is the eroticism of the novel. Frankly, these scenes, of which there are many, are unnecessary to Sandrine’s overall story. Readers already understand that she is behaving in a way that is not typical for her; to continually show readers just how different she is behaving is overkill. In fact, these scenes feel gratuitous rather than vital, and readers will quickly tire of the rapidity at which they dissolve into a sex scene of some form. By the end, they are nothing more than the proverbial hammer with which Ms. Rose drives home the point of Sandrine’s odd behavior and potential possession.
Then there is the issue of just what Ms. Rose is trying to accomplish. One will not be able to decide whether The Witch of Painted Sorrows is a gothic ghost story, historical fiction, or historical erotica. It may indeed be all three, which is confusing in and of itself. Also, there are many unanswered questions that puzzle readers rather than entice them to continue the story. While one should expect a fair number of lingering questions in the first novel of any series, there are an alarming number of key issues without explanation, context, or hints. Sandrine never asks the questions readers want her to ask, and no one else offers much-needed answers.
The Witch of Painted Sorrows is interesting in much the same way people like watching disaster films or monster truck rallies. There is something so inexplicably bizarre about the story, its inability to fit neatly into a category, and its very nebulous purpose, that it is difficult for readers to turn away from it. The beautiful setting and strong writing displayed by Ms. Rose do help improve the experience, but even that will only get readers so far before the perplexing nature of the story becomes almost hypnotizing in its oddity. The novel ends in such a way that one could perceive it as a slight cliffhanger. For the right reader, it is enough to pique one’s interest in continuing the series. For others, though, it will be just one more quirk in a novel filled with them and a continuation of the frustrating lack of answers and closure the entire novel provides.