Published: 18 July 2017
Publisher: Atria Books
In this riveting and richly drawn novel from “one of the master storytellers of historical fiction” (New York Times bestseller Beatriz Williams), a talented young artist flees New York for Paris after one of her scandalous drawings reveals a dark secret—and triggers a terrible tragedy.
In the wake of a dark and brutal World War, the glitz and glamour of 1925 Manhattan shine like a beacon for the high society set, which is desperate to keep their gaze firmly fixed to the future. But Delphine Duplessi sees more than most. At a time in her career when she could easily be unknown and penniless, like so many of her classmates from L’École de Beaux Arts, in America she has gained notoriety for her stunning “shadow portraits” that frequently expose her subjects’ most scandalous secrets—for better or for worse. Most nights Delphine doesn’t mind that her gift has become mere entertainment—a party trick—for the fashionable crowd. Though her ancestor La Lune, the legendary sixteenth-century courtesan and—like Delphine—a witch, might have thought differently.
Then, on a snowy night in February, in a penthouse high above Fifth Avenue, Delphine’s mystical talent leads to a tragedy between two brothers. Horrified, she renounces her gift.
Devastated and disconsolate, Delphine returns to her old life in the south of France where Picasso, Matisse, and the Fitzgeralds are summering. There, Delphine is thrust into recapturing the past. First by her charismatic twin brother and business manager Sebastian in his attempts to cajole her back to work and into co-dependence, then by the world famous opera singer Emma Calvé, who is obsessed with the centuries-old Book of Abraham, written by the fourteenth-century alchemist Nicolas Flamel. And finally by her ex-lover Mathieu, who is determined to lure her back into his arms, unaware of the danger that had led Delphine to flee Paris for New York five years before.
Trapped in an ancient chateau where hidden knowledge lurks in the shadows, Delphine questions and in many ways rejects what and who she loves the most—her art, her magick, her family, her brother, and Mathieu—as she tries to finally accept them as the gifts they are and to shed her fear of loving and living with her eyes wide open.
Rating: 5 Stars
I fell into a series in and I didn’t mean to, but having read The Library of Light and Shadow I think it may turn out to be quite fortuitous. This book introduced me to a world that had a unique background, intriguing characters, and a plot that balanced between the magical and the real, the ornate and the simple.
This book was chock full of characters, both based on real life people and those of the author’s imagination. Some were sympathetic, like the main character Delphine, a painter whose portraits reveal the secrets of her subjects; some were mysterious, like Gaspard, the caretaker of the chateau that Delphine is commissioned to paint; and others are suspicious, like Sebastian, Delphine’s twin, who as a male La Lune descendant did not inherit a magical gift and yet is intertwined with Delphine’s as her manager. There were the real life personages, like Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso, writers, artists, singers, etc., that were summering in France and that Delphine met through friends and through family connections. I was amazed at the sheer scope of her family’s influence, the people that they knew because of their abilities and their longevity. Whether the author’s portrayal of these people’s personalities was accurate or not is unknown to me, but they all felt authentic in the moment of this story.
The settings that were seen throughout the book are another thing altogether. There was sumptuousness throughout and Delphine never seemed far from the fine things in life, even when she was living in her small studio apartment in New York. There were colors and fabrics co-mingling that I don’t think I’d have thought of pairing together, but reading them here I think that the author found an interesting balance. The ornateness of Delphine’s life, whether it was her family’s home or the chateau that she has to draw, bordered on the line of obscene at times, but always the story was brought back from the brink before it crossed over.
As for the plot itself, I felt so sad for the burden that Delphine, as well as her female relatives, must carry. Powers like the ones that they have felt like the kind that are often described as more like curses than gifts and there is, in fact, a curse to their family: they only get one shot at true love. That is terrible, even more so when we realize why Delphine fled to New York in the first place and why it feels like such a terrible thing for her to return to France. Her relationship with Mathieu felt pretty well-developed, it was physically intense, and he seemed to really understand her, even after she left him in an effort to protect him, following a shadow portrait that revealed a future that she interpreted in a specific way.
The character I knew I would feel the most betrayal from, and yet couldn’t help but go along with Delphine’s belief in them, was her brother Sebastian. I knew from the summary that there was a history of co-dependence, which made a lot of sense considering his lack of magical abilities, but watching his manipulation of Delphine was intense. It was so subtle that even Delphine did not see it for a majority of the book, even though I was suspecting things by the way he was pressuring her to return to painting against her wishes. When the depth of his deviousness is revealed at the end of the book, even that was a surprise despite the way I’d been feeling about him. The author’s handling of her characters painted an interesting portrait of familial commitment and the blindness that Delphine had toward her brother and his actions for a long time.
M.J. Rose wrote a rich text in The Library of Light and Shadow. It’s the third in the series, but as I said earlier, it isn’t necessary to read the previous two books. I’d strongly recommend going back to them though, especially if they’re anything like Delphine’s story because a tale of magic and beauty and life like this should be enjoyed like the fine drinks and food that the characters consumed: often and with gusto.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.