24 April 2018

Floats the Dark Shadow By Yves Fey


Occult / Suspense-thriller
19th Century

How does one describe a book that so vividly paints another time, another place? Maybe we should start where it all occurs, Paris in the last few years of the 19th century. The city is a hub of creativity – after all, we’re talking about Paris, right? Poets, painters, musicians, they all converge on the French capital, eager to create art and revel in life and sin. The city is brought to magnificent life by the author, testament to hours and hours of diligent research. However, Paris of La Belle Epoque is not a kind city, it is a city where the dark stands side by side with the light, evil jostling for space with good.

Central to the plot is the macabre if fascinating story of Joan of Arc and one of her most flamboyant captains, Gilles de Rais. This ancient story forms an essential background to the sinister events that unfold during two brief months in the decadent Paris of the late 19th century, and to further spice things up, we have Satanists and dabblers in the occult, we have an angry seething city, with anarchists and revolutionaries calling for death to the bourgeoisie.

Enter our protagonist, Theo. She is a young American woman who has come to Paris to paint. Through her French cousin, Averill, Theo has become a member of an avant-garde group that calls themselves Les Revenants. Young and driven by passion to change the world, Theo’s companions live right on the edge, drinking absinthe and attending some rather odd events, such as a concert in the catacombs of Paris, the living audience complemented by the thousands upon thousands of skulls that adorn the surrounding walls. (Very evocative, let me tell you.)

And then, the children start disappearing.  Quite often children no one will miss – or with parents too poor to demand the attention of the police. One of these children is a boy Theo knows. Another of these children is the protégé of one of Paris’ foremost mobsters, and he does have the clout to get the police moving, which is when Michel Devaux enters the scene. Yet another child Theo knows disappears. And another. One of these children – a blind little girl – is discovered gruesomely murdered, and the only link Inspector Devaux finds is that all the children, in one way or the other, have had contact with one or more of Les Revenants.

Floats the Dark Shadow is told mainly from the POV of Theo and Michel. One is a young woman besotted with her cousin, who now and then worries her absinthe-addicted cousin may be the culprit, the other is a determined officer of the law, a man combating demons of his own. As the book progresses, Theo and Michel grow into complete human beings – especially Michel, a man whose character has been tempered through terrible loss and staggering guilt. Theo is less complex, but this is in keeping with her youth, so it never jars.
Fey’s villain is a tormented and complicated soul. His atrocious deeds make us shudder, the despair in his actions is evident, eliciting an odd mix of disgust and compassion from the reader. The reader is kept guessing as to the villain’s identity right to the end, one elegant layer after the other being added to the complex plot. How the book ends, I will not reveal, but by the time those two terrible months are over, Theo is no longer the young woman she was, her innocence and belief in the essential goodness of her fellow man gone for good. Sad? Yes—but very “real”. Fortunately, Theo is young enough to embrace the future and chalk up recent events on her experience account.

Floats the Dark Shadow can be a demanding read. The prose is not of the fast-paced variety and it took some chapters before this reader was fully hooked. It is also full of literary references – a delight for those among us who have stumbled upon them before, perhaps a challenge to others. But for those that persevere beyond the first few pages, Yves Fey offers quite the insight into the long-gone Paris of the Belle Epoque. The language is sensuous and rich, it weaves a tapestry of sound and scents, of events and emotions, which transports the reader to those brief weeks a long gone May, when the trees rained cherry blossom from above, while in the darker recesses of the city, evil prowled.

© Anna Belfrage

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How we Discover our Diamonds - a look at how the system works.

23 April 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Two Journeys Home by Kevin O’Connell

A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe

Amazon UK £4.54 £11.86
Amazon US $6.28 $15.99
Amazon CA $7.69 $21.68

Fictional Saga

Starting to read a series with a sequel can be tricky business, though many authors routinely employ the technique of briefly filling in, whether via a quickie paragraph to bring readers up to speed, or a few details scattered here and there. In most instances this works out and all is well. Kevin O’Connell in Two Journeys Home takes it all a bit further by embedding details within the lead character’s reflections, as well as third-person narrative, and it does more than merely work. Because the information is so well paced, the author is able to choose carefully where he places it, and the natural feel within the acquisition of details of Eileen O’Connell’s life in The Derrynane Saga’s first installment, Beyond Derrynane, makes her story so much more readable and enticing.

Two Journeys Home tells Eileen’s story in between the two titular voyages, once upon arriving home to Ireland following several years spent at the Austrian court of Empress Maria Theresa, the second after her return there following a marriage attempt forbidden by her family in the interest of protecting the illegal import business that created their wealth. Readers follow her relationship with her young charge Antoine, the empress’s last daughter, who has a future role in perpetuating alliances via marriage.  The author explores Eileen’s memories and rapport with the girl, so close that she privately addresses her Irish caretaker as Mama.

O’Connell’s prose really is quite vivid and sensory, with lavish and lovely descriptions painting images not only of breathtaking scenery, but also, if it could be said, of interaction between characters and how they experience various moments within their journeys through life. Their inner landscape is given due attention and it is not rare to feel almost a sense of delight in response to some passages, owing to a sensation of being able to both practically hear the individual’s lines as well as relate to the perspective from which they utter them. Too, we are introduced to other connections, including some of Eileen’s relations in the Irish regiments of the Austrian and French armies, who contribute to the story as a richly related family drama in addition to fantastic and revealing historical fiction.

One difficulty I did have with O’Connell’s prose is his overuse of rather long and somewhat arduous insertions requiring frequent re-reads that take away from the passages’ fluidity. Fortunately, after about the novel’s first third, these ease up and we can once more immerse ourselves in a fascinating journey through rarely-glimpsed perspective, that of an Irish experience in Catholic Europe as well as a senior servant within the Hapsburg dominion.

Though the greatest part of outright conflict appears in the book’s first half, and the second doesn’t necessarily address the “mélange of political, relational and religious upheaval” Eileen faces, as referenced in the book’s own blurb, there is real allure with the cast of characters, how they relate to one another and the contexts within which they are placed. Moreover, a tension does indeed build as Antoine’s marriage looms and a growing sense of unease develops as readers begin to detect a familiarity with this tale and how Eileen, despite her final assessment of her own, “smaller” life back in Ireland as preferable to Antoine’s luxurious future role, has no way to know how it all will play out. It is as if we are impotent in the face of future danger and maligning forces; we witness it through the veil of time and the players we see cannot hear our warnings as each goes off to their futures and final destinations and we can only watch.

Two Journeys Home concludes before going into the greater part of that future, with Eileen’s connections to her past still very intact, and a sequel approached without previous knowledge of the story becomes one we are drawn to follow to the saga’s very end.

© Lisl Zlitni

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21 April 2018

It is the weekend...

No reviews over the weekend 
but did you miss...

by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

* * *
and have you seen our

where you will find all sorts of interesting things
 to amuse, entertain and inform!

20 April 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Cry of the Heron by Dick Allan

A tale of love and envy on eighteenth century England's waterways

AMAZON UK £9.99  
AMAZON US $3.19 

Family drama / nautical

George Cartwright’s father dies after an altercation with Billy, the son of his rival, Nathaniel Cryer. A heart attack was the cause, but Billy finds himself accused of murder and is sentenced to transportation, but is apparently drowned during the sea voyage.

The feud between the two families expands as the Cartwrights do well for themselves while the Cryers’ desire for vengeance grows  darker.

Set in the harsh world of the bargemen of the late eighteenth century, the descriptions of river and canal life seem well-researched, depicting the trade and daily life of these water-world highways that were essential to the expanding trade of the industrial revolution.  

The story is perhaps a little ‘tell’ not ‘show’ in style, and there were a few clichés and oft-used phrases (‘mind’s-eye’, ‘smouldered with rage’) which are a shame, as I think the author has the ability to be more imaginative with his words, as shown by his delightful descriptions of the rivers, canals, boats and wildlife. And perhaps a run-through by an editor would have picked up the inconsistencies of using fourteen-year-old but 12th Century (twelfth century would have been better).

However, as something a bit different, and for lovers of all things boats, this is a tale worth reading – especially if you happen to be taking a vacation along the backwaters of the English canals.

© Anne Holt

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