International Writers Magazine: Review
of the Witch by Natasha Mostert
Publisher: Bantam Books Ltd (14 Jul 2008)
Frances Lewis review
extraordinary Gothic novel, reads the blurb on the inside cover,
that takes on big themes love, death, alchemy, the power
of the human mind to transform and transcend reality and
wraps them into a thriller narrative
well, this is partially
true. While Mosterts fourth novel has all the ingredients
necessary for a Gothic thriller (black cats, spiders, magic, a big
creepy house, murder and mysterious sisters), theres no escaping
that the twenty-first century setting feels like an aberration,
an uncomfortably modern overcoat on finely frilled Victorian garb.
Meet the protagonist:
Gabriel Blackstone, ace computer hacker and man about town, who at the
start of the novel is contacted by an old flame regarding the disappearance
of her stepson some weeks ago. Gabriel is called upon especially because
he is a remote viewer somebody who can read other
peoples minds. He used to be part of a national organisation dedicated
to the locating of missing persons, but gave it up because of some terrible
tragedy that left him doubting his abilities. The old flame Frankie,
also a remote viewer, though less powerful is hard to refuse,
and Gabriel soon finds himself slamming the ride again (an
oddly American-sounding phrase for reading a mind that doesnt
get better the more its used), in order to find this missing boy.
His bizarre visions lead him to the door of the Monk House, a rambling
Victorian mansion crumbling quietly away in Chelsea, and home to the
aforementioned mysterious sisters, Minnaloushe and Morrighan Monk. These
exotic creatures are somehow linked to the boys vanishment,
and as Gabriel stumbles deeper under their spell, it soon becomes clear
he is dealing with murder instead but which of the sisters is
innocent, and which is the killer?
As the Gothic centre of the novel, the Monk sisters certainly look the
part: one red-haired, voluptuous and dreamy-eyed, the other raven-haired
and athletic, with a steely gaze. Their house is full of roses and African
masks and alchemical paraphernalia. They are socially adept, disgustingly
rich and funnily enough descended from Doctor John Dee,
the sixteenth century mathematician who had a passion for the occult.
This passion has ancestrally passed onto the sisters, whose obsession
with memory palaces and gnostic transformation ultimately leads them
into dangerous territory.
Mostert revels in the detail here, slipping in chunks of deftly researched
information that will enthral and confuse the reader in equal measure.
This is where the books strength lies. As far as the Monk sisters
are concerned, as characters they are rounded and interesting with an
intriguing history and sparky dynamic. The text comes alive when we
get a glimpse into their diary entries precursors to the early
chapters that inexplicably fade halfway in to the story and it
seems a shame that sometimes the action just drifts along, having bypassed
The weaknesses? Well, as someone who is supposed to be smitten by the
Monk sisters potency, Gabriel never quite convinces the reader
of his feelings. It all seems a bit convenient and contrived, so when
we are called upon to believe he has fallen in love with one of them,
it smacks more of handy narrative thrust than actual emotion. Hes
not particularly likeable either; too selfish to sympathise with and
a bit arrogant. If he didnt have his remarkable remote viewing
skills it would be difficult to see why the sisters would be interested
in him, let alone the reader. And as the story builds, we sense a twist
coming, which is disappointing when it does. Its just not surprising
enough. Finally, for a Gothic novel its not especially scary.
I could do with a bit more darkness and danger, some genuine shocks
and thrills. Shifting the setting back a hundred years or so would give
the book some atmosphere, maybe; would Victorian sensibilities reacting
to the arcane practices of mind-reading and ritual murder lead to much
needed tension? A Gothic thriller for modern minds that doesnt
quite fit the genre, perhaps, but an entertaining read all the same.
© Frances Lewis June 21st 2008
frances_lewis at hotmail.com
Fire Eternal by Chris dLacey
Frances Lewis review
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