Sunday, June 10, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert

Gabriel Blackstone is an information pirate. He began his career as a “remote viewer (RV)” for Eyestorm, a government-run institution which trained psychics and individuals able to tap into the consciousness of others and “slam the ride.” After a ride ends with a murdered child rather than an incarcerated kidnapper, Gabriel walks away from Eyestorm and focuses solely on making money. His chosen profession is hacker for hire, getting his thrills from riding the information highway and penetrating closely guarded corporate networks.

Life gets complicated when Cecily Franck reappears in Gabriel’s life, asking him to investigate the disappearance of her stepson Robert. Cecily is an RV, as well as his former lover, a relationship which ended with his departure from Eyestorm. Reluctantly Gabriel looks into Robert’s relationships and soon believes that Robert was murdered by one of two sisters – Morrighan or Minnaloushe Monk. Descendants of occultist John Dee, the Monk sisters are “solar” witches engaged in alchemy and the “Art of Memory,” a process of building memory palaces in the mind to achieve transformation and ultimate power. After hacking into their computer, Gabriel discovers a diary written by “M” and soon is captivated, falling deeply in love with the writer. Now to save himself, he must uncover which sister is the writer - Minnaloushe, the romantic intellectual or Morrighan, the daring adventurer - and find out if the woman he loves killed Robert.

As Season of the Witch opens, Gabriel is little more than a cardboard character, the stereotypical action hero brashly confident of his own abilities. Instead of being repulsed by this, readers should persist with the story for Mostert slowly peels away the layers to show Gabriel as a flawed human, hiding within a shell of arrogance and superiority. Mostert’s writing immerses readers within a world of artifice and construction, where everything possesses multiple layers of meaning. She ensures that by the critical plot moment, readers care deeply about Gabriel and identify with him, flaws and all.

Mostert’s attention to character development does not end with Gabriel. Minnaloushe and Morrighan are both lovingly drawn with each possessing a distinct personality and manner of speech. The secondary characters are also infused with the necessary small details to flesh out their character. Isidore, Gabriel’s business partner, is quickly defined by his love of loud music and the virtual world and early on in the novel his personality comes close to overwhelming that of Gabriel.

Season of the Witch is a carefully constructed mystery, one which exposes greater depths with each reading. Extensive research into alchemy, history, the occult, theories of memory and philosophy has obviously been carried out by Mostert and she possesses vast knowledge of her chosen subject. Mostert has placed the Monk sisters’ grail quest within a modernistic setting, fusing the modern with the data storage methods of an earlier age to create a wholly unique commentary on memory within the information age. As an academic explains to Gabriel “Our memories have become flaccid because of all the technological tools we use…Citizens of Ancient Greece and Rome would find your attention span laughable…Modern man is increasingly incapable of internalizing knowledge…we…forget what we’ve read almost as soon as we’ve read it.” Her choice of topic - the drive for gnosis, knowledge of the universe and enlightenment – dares readers to engage with her novel as more than just entertainment. She expects readers to face her challenge and expand their knowledge and understanding of the world.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0525950036
ISBN13: 9780525950035

416 Pages
Publisher: Dutton
Publication Date: April 24, 2007
Author Website:



Lotus Reads said...

I have a copy of this book sitting on my bookshelf Janelle, but unfortunately, this is not one of my favourite genres...although I am tempted to give it a whirl after nice your review. Either that or I might just give my copy away to another mystery lover.

Janelle Martin said...

Thanks for your comment Angelique. It really is worth giving it a chance, there is a lot here other than the central mystery and paranormal aspects. It can be read for the "memory palaces" aspects alone and still be a satisfying read.

This is a dense novel with so many levels that I think you'd really enjoy it.

Carl V. said...

Just finished this last night and loved it. Enjoyed it so much I had to go straight to my computer to bang out a review. I was so pleasantly surprised by this book as it was far beyond any expectations I had. I found myself getting sucked in and not being able to put it down. I highly recommend this one!