This story begins as a fairy tale: 17-year-old Sophia Petherem is taken under the wing of the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, and begins a new life with her guardian at Wyndriven Abbey. However, she gradually begins to realize that things are not quite as idyllic as they seem, and finds herself drawn into a sinister mystery and forbidden romance. Set in 19th century Mississippi, this book has a very southern gothic feel to it, and the ending chapters are quite dark.
Jane Nickerson Guest Post
How can such a nice person…
A few years ago, my book club met to discuss the novel I had assigned them to read, A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin. It’s one of my favorite books, and I thought they would all love it, because I liked them and so surely they would like what I liked. This was when I first realized that even book-loving people you’re compatible with won’t always have the same taste in books. I should have been warned by the fact that I didn’t much care for most of the books they’d chosen.
Anyway, after I did my little blurb about the book, there was silence for a moment. Then someone said, “I didn’t like it. It was a downer.” There were more comments like this. I thought for sure that out of twelve people, one other besides me would like it. Or at the very least, be neutral. But they all hated it. One person said, “Jane, I’m surprised that you would pick such a dark book.” Because I seem so sweet. And to me, Wizard isn’t even that dark. I hope that if any of my friends from that book club read Strands of Bronze and Gold and the books in that series that are yet to come, they won’t be too disturbed, but at least they had a warning at that meeting. What can I say? I like dark-ish stuff. Not the grimmest, not the goriest, but a touch of the macabre is such shivery fun. Even though I’m a nice person. I go to church. I love kids and animals. Why, just today I made Valentine’s cookies and left them on people’s doorsteps, ringing the bell and running. Wasn’t that nice of me?
Still, since I was a little kid reading Ghost and More Ghosts, I’ve enjoyed that edge of the ghoulish and gruesome. Walter de la Mare’s “The Listeners” is probably my favorite poem. And obviously I’m not alone, in spite of being so outnumbered at that particular book club. That’s why zombies and vampires are so en vogue, and why there’s been tales of monsters and evil from the earliest times. In literature the ghost story genre dates from at least the 1700’s, with the publication of The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole. What makes good, decent people enjoy that sort of thing? Obviously, unless we’re deeply disturbed, we wouldn’t like the scary stuff to happen to us in real life. None of the vampire victims I’ve met have anything good to say about the experience. Part of the charm of stories of murder and mayhem is that, as you read them, you yourself are cozily curled up in your chair or bed or bathtub. You are absolutely safe, so there’s sort of the hot fudge sundae appeal—opposites brought together, making them extra pleasing. The fear makes your heart race and your adrenaline flow, but it’s in a controlled environment and it will end.
Now, the ending of scary stories is something I firmly believe should always be happy. At least in anything I write or read. Good must always win over evil or I’ll have no part of it. Courage and kindness and a pure heart must always triumph, because that is what makes the macabre fun, instead of just a nightmare.
About the AuthorFor many years Jane Nickerson and her family lived in a big old house in Aberdeen, Mississippi, where she was also the children’s librarian. She has always loved the South, “the olden days,” gothic tales, houses, kids, writing, and interesting villains. She and her husband now make their home in Ontario, Canada.
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