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Book of Shadows
Paula Brackston
Snowbooks, 384 pages

Book of Shadows
Paula Brackston
Paula Brackston runs creative writing classes and workshops, is a script reader for a film company, and sells her short stories. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. In 2006, she was shortlisted in the Crème de la Crime Search for new writers. She lives half way up a Brecon Beacon with her family.

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A review by Katherine Petersen

Elizabeth Anne Hawksmith, age 384, has moved once again to start another segment of her nearly solitary life. As Bess Hawksmith, a witch finder condemned her mother to hanging in England in 1628. Bess turned to Gideon Masters, a local warlock to save her from a similar fate. As the daughter of a hanged witch, she stood no chance against a village out for blood. Gideon taught her witchcraft and helped her find the power to become immortal. But he commanded a price for his services -- Bess herself and that they work as a pair to conquer the world. Seeing the evil within Gideon, Bess fled the consequences of her actions, changing identities and location often. Gideon follows her to Victorian London during the time of Jack the Ripper, to Flanders during World War I and to the present day. Knowing he's somewhere close, Elizabeth can never let down her guard, can never make friends.

Elizabeth learned the art of healing from her mother and continues this aspect of her gift whenever she can. In her latest move, she befriends a lonely teen named Tegan whom she hopes will become her pupil. For the first time in many years, she allows herself to have a friend. The reader learns of her experiences as Dr. Eliza Hawksmith in Victorian London and as nurse Elise Hawksmith at the front during World War I as she tells these tales to Tegan. But Gideon, who always knows how to hurt Elizabeth most, has also befriended Tegan. To protect her young protégé, Elizabeth must face off one final time against Gideon.

In Book of Shadows, Paula Brackston gives readers a beautifully written and heart-wrenching novel. Her format of stories within stories to share Elizabeth's life works well, giving us an intimate picture of Elizabeth's life experiences. Her descriptions brim with detail, so the reader can hear the villagers' jeers at her condemned mother and the artillery fire and cries of wounded soldiers at the front. There are a few words here and there that don't fit and a few images such as numerous sparkling fairies and hideous monsters in a couple places that feel as exaggerations compared with the rest of the novel, but these are minor quibbles.

Much of the beauty in reading a novel is feeling at one with the characters, and it's this visceral response that Brackston evokes in her debut. The story compels readers to feel emotions along with Elizabeth from joy to sadness to fear to grief. We empathize with her inability to trust and her sense that loneliness was a high price to pay for such a long life. For most of us, much of our joy in life stems from interactions with people: family, friends and strangers who will become friends. Would living such a long life be worth giving up the closeness of those relationships? This story can stand alone, but there is room for a sequel that I'd be please to read should Brackston write it.

Copyright © 2009 Katherine Petersen

Katherine Petersen started reading as a young child and hasn't stopped. She still thinks she can read all the books she wants, but might, at some point, realize the impossibility of this mission. While she enjoys other genres, she thrives on fantasy, science fiction and mysteries.

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