Review of The Witch of Bourbon Street by Suzanne Palmieri

“Well, I’m sure there are wild tales told all over that try to explain the convoluted nature of our bayous. Stories about alligators eating babies, hoodoo rituals, ghostly Civil War apparitions, racism, and a bunch of old folks sitting on rickety, ancient porches drinking homemade moonshine out of jelly jars while someone’s great-uncle ‘Beau’ plays the fiddle. And it’s all true. To an extent.”

Witch of Bourbon Street Cover

The Witch of Bourbon Street is something we see far too seldom in speculative fiction—a rich, deep family drama (Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories is another great example). Palmieri also gives us something else we see too little. The Witch of Bourbon Street maintains an ambiguity around its magic, both in what it can do and what it actually does in the story (you could perhaps argue that The Witch of Bourbon Street isn’t speculative fiction at all, but I wouldn’t go that far). It’s regional fiction in that it is fiction of and about a place that could not be lifted out of it and set elsewhere. And, most of all, it is beautifully written.

“I grew up the way water moves, in twists and turns with temperamental, amorphous boundaries. And I danced, lightly, over precarious situations and a thousand half-submerged ideas as they tried to surface above the waters of my bayou, reaching out their pale limbs and beautiful, lost faces from under the dark waters.”

Frances is a Sorrow, and the Sorrows are an old French family turned bayou aristocrats. They are also witches. Cursed witches, it appears, and the mystery of what led to the death of almost every Sorrow, and the evident downfall of their family, a hundred years ago hangs over the events in the present day. As does a choice made by Frances fifteen years prior. That choice led Frances to abandon New Orleans for the bayou, to shut herself off from the world, and to leave her husband and child Frances and Danny’s marriage was doomed from the start. Because marriage, a little house on the corner, and forgoing magic was not Frances and never could be. But mostly because fifteen years ago Frances abandoned a child that may or may not be Danny’s.

Her daughter Sippie’s decision to seek her out, her son Jack’s decision to run away, and her friend Millie’s jealousy, all against the backdrop of an approaching storm, set in motion the events of the novel.

About H.P.

Blogs on books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday (speculative fiction) and Hillbilly Highways (country noir and nonfiction).
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