Season of the Witch
was completely prepared to read this novel quickly and toss off a
summary-laden review. I don't read a lot of "goth SF," as
Publishers Weekly called SEASON OF THE WITCH, and I
thought the lush book jacket looked a bit romance-y fancy.
Mea maxima culpa. I judged a book by its cover, and I was
wrong. Once begun, I was enthralled and only wish I had been able
to read it all in one sitting instead of having to interrupt its
progress with mundane things like work and meals.
Natasha Mostert has done something fine and rare: she has created
an erotically-charged atmosphere that has little of the salacious
about it. Gabriel Blackstone is a professional information thief
and former member of Eyestorm, a government-sanctioned research
study involving Blackstone and his fellow "RVs" ("remote viewers"
--- in ordinary fictional parlance, mindreaders and telepaths). He
is hired by his former lover's husband, William Whittington, to
investigate a son's disappearance, and he becomes entwined in the
lives of sisters Minnaloushe and Morrighan Monk.
The Sisters Monk --- one curvaceous and titian, the other muscular
and raven-haired --- could quickly become stock figures of
clichéd fun. Mostert exerts a delicate control over detail,
never allowing her "camera" to linger too long on one sister or the
other. Added to their beauty is their mystery: the sisters seem to
be witches, and the arrogant Blackstone believes he can crack their
code before they crack him.
Here's where Mostert shines. A former academic and journalist with
degrees in linguistics and lexicography, she takes an ancient idea
(I won't spoil it!) and uses it to create a modern dilemma. If
information is power, then the person who holds the key to that
information holds the most power. Mostert wisely grounds her
intellectual facts with real-life details. The Monks might be
alchemists, but they are also sensualists. Their Victorian pile of
a home is filled with roses in all states of bloom, books, papers,
jars, bottles and many different colors and scents. As Gabriel
becomes more and more (forgive me) bewitched by the women, he
unlocks a diary written by one that reveals the author has fallen
in love with him. But since she refers to everyone only by first
initial, he has no idea which sister it is.
Meanwhile, the reader becomes increasingly aware that Gabriel's
arrogance is not merely a trope to call attention to his Leading
Man status --- it actually is his tragic flaw. As his old love
Frankie watches her sick husband decline, Gabriel must decide
if Robbie Whittington was murdered and, again, by which
sister. The twists and turns continue until the very last chapter,
with Mostert using her delicate touch to keep the pace tight yet
languorous. I didn't want it to end.
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on January 23, 2011