Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Silver Rose and The Messenger of Truth

The Silver Rose, by Susan Carroll is an historical/paranormal romance set in 17th century France under the rule of Catherine De Medici, the "Dark Queen" who is cast here as a witch.
I was unaware that this was the third in a series of books about Medici and the "wise women/witches" of the era until I was a third of the way into the work, and by then I felt it necessary to just press on and finish it instead of trying to stop and start another volume (I have the preceeding work, The Courtesan, in my TBR pile).
This series concerns the fate of three "wise women" sisters with various "fey" powers, such as mind-reading or healing, who live on Faire Isle among a community of women. They are hunted by some truly evil male witch hunters, and dispersed to other countries to hide. The youngest sister, Miribele, returns to Faire Isle to live in the woods as a wise woman, and isn't hunted because she alone among her sisters wasn't charged with witchcraft. Her childhood sweetheart, Simon, was one of the main witchunters and sees fit to spare her the torture/confession/burning at the stake routine. Inevitably, Simon, who has become quite a sinister figure, finds himself filled with regret at having killed so many women, and finds that his life is empty, his soul bereft, and yet he presses on, hoping to find the dreaded "Silver Rose" reputed to be a strong and evil witch who gives out poisoned roses as her calling card. After an attempt on De Medici's life, Simon is called to hunt down the Silver Rose and wrest from her the equally dreaded "Book of Shadows" which is full of deadly spells, but also contains the secret of eternal life.
Meanwhile, Miri is charged with helping Simon, and finds him a changed man, full of sorrow and regret, and in need of a second chance. Of course, Miri's love is all that is needed to turn Simon from a bitter and cruel person to a respectful, loving man who will not murder any more wise women. Pardon me while I roll my eyes and sigh at that old and ridiculous theme. Any man who has basically burned women alive for a living isn't just going to become a pushover after a couple of weeks with a pretty woman mouthing platitudes about peace and love at him. There's also an underlying anti-abortion theme here that is linked to the horrible act of putting infants out in the woods to die of exposure that I found objectionable at best. There are too many women who know they can't be a decent parent out there, and there are too many women and girls who are victims of incest and rape to not have legal abortion in place. Women need to have the right to deal with the product of their bodies as they see fit if they are to be equal citizens of this country.
At any rate, though it was an interesting insight into 17th century France and the herbalists and midwives of the time, I found Miri to be a bit too "goody-two-shoes" and her beloved Simon to be unrealistic in his 360 turn around for the love of a woman he would have killed earlier in his career. There were several other characters that are stereotypes (the good-hearted simpleton, the evil follower who is, of course, a stupid larger woman, because fat somehow equates to lack of brain cells, the foppish man who is effeminate but a heterosexual, the gentle abbess who has a lovely garden and is everyone's proxy mom, etc.) and even the sex scenes are predictable. I was somewhat disappointed in this novel, which I'd been lead to believe was similar to the works of Susan Vreeland and Tracy Chevalier. Unfortunately, it is not even close to the quality of work those two authors create.
The 4th Maisie Dobbs mystery novel, The Messenger of Truth, was also a disappointment, though not as much of one as the Silver Rose. Maisie is investigating the untimely accidental death of an artist who belonged to a wealthy artistocratic family in England of the 1930s. In previous novels, Maisie, who had been a nurse during the Great War, was a softer, more sympathetic character. In this tome, Maisie has become colder, more distant, calculating and selfish. Her assistant Billy, the lovable Cockney, is dealt a cruel blow in this book when his youngest child dies of diptheria. There is some discussion of the role of art in society, and the vast gulf that had formed between the "haves" and the "have nots" at that point during the depression that is well worth the price of the book for its insight. But I found myself discomfited by the new chill that has come over Maisie Dobbs and the much more stringent prose style employed by Jacqueline Winspear, the author. Perhaps Ms Winspear felt it was necessary to convey the horrors of the era. At any rate, it was still a fairly satisfying read, as Maisie solves the mystery and sets up a new chapter in her life sans male attachements. I can only hope that Winspears next Maisie Dobbs novel is set after the depression, and is therefore somewhat softer in tone and style.

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