by Suzanne Palmieri
Genres: Magical Realism, Women's fiction
When Frances Sorrow returns home to the now dilapidated Sorrow Estate to restore her birthright, she finds herself haunted by a 100-year-old mystery only she can unravel. Set amidst the charming chaos of The French Quarter and remote bayous of Tivoli Parish, Louisiana, Suzanne Palmieri’s The Witch of Bourbon Street weaves an unforgettable tale of mystery and magic. Situated deep in the bayou is the formerly opulent Sorrow Estate. Once home to a magical family, the Sorrows, it now lays in ruins, uninhabited since a series of murders in 1902 shocked the entire community. When Frances Green Sorrow is born, the family is on the brink of obscurity and the last remaining Sorrows cling to the hope that she is the one who will finally resurrect the glory of what once was. However, Frances has no wish to be the family’s savior. Disillusioned, she marries young, attempting an "ordinary life," and has a son, Jack. When her marriage fails and she loses custody of her boy, she runs away to live a quiet life on the dilapidated Sorrow Estate, where she practices solitary magic amid ghosts and gardens. But when Jack disappears, she is forced to rejoin the world she left behind and solve the century-old murder that casts a long shadow over Tivoli Parish and its inhabitants in order to find her son. The Witch of Bourbon Street is a story of love, family, redemption and forgiveness. It’s a story that bridges the nostalgia of time, and brings those that are separated back together again.
The Witch of Bourbon Street by Suzanne Palmieri offers a lush, Gothic tale wrapped in mystery, and magic. This was my first Palmieri book and her descriptive writing style is beautiful. The New Orleans setting and the series of unsolved murders drew me to this novel set in 1902. I would classify it as women’s fiction with a touch of magical realism.
- Setting: Witches on Bourbon Street primarily takes place at Sorrow Estate set deep in the bayou of Tivoli Parish, Louisiana. The tale switches between the past and the present focusing on several characters and the murders of 1902. The landscape is lush and fascinating as we learn about the Sorrow family. The Sorrow Estate and the surrounding bayou where characters as well and I found myself longing to go there.
- The family: What a colorful, dysfunctional family the Sorrow family is. Palmieri invites us in to this eccentric family sharing their beginnings in New Orleans from the murders to the troubles of present day. We get perspectives from Frances Green Sorrow who once embraced her families’ abilities and has since closed herself off from it. We learn her story as she suddenly wakes one day ready to embrace her gift and life once again. Then there is her young son Jack, who wants his parents back together again. We also get the perspective of Sippy, Frances’ secret. The characters are quirky and I was immediately drawn to them. Frances’ story was touching.
- Magic: Herbal remedies, fortune telling, a shop on Bourbon Street and the Book of Sorrow add magical elements to this story. Crow, a bird who aids this family was an interesting creature. Then there are the ghosts who still linger on the bayou. I loved speaking with the ghosts and learning their secrets. Palmieri weaved her magic and even had me believing.
- The Murders: Traveling back to 1902 and learning about the murders at the Sorrow Estate, and of the Nun accused of killing them and a still unsolved disappearance held me spellbound. We get some present day mystery too when a young child goes missing.
- Romance: We learn of Frances’ on and off again romance with Jack’s father, their marriage and separation. This is a second chance romance filled with love, forgiveness and redemption. It was a subtle thread but an important one.
- Standalone: The tale is a standalone and Palmieri wraps things up resolving both the past and present issues. I closed the book satisfied and smiling.
- Balance: The tale captivated me, but the different perspectives and time changes never really allowed me to lose myself within its pages. The first part of the book was a tad slow for me, and the last had me flipping the pages at warp speed. I wanted more details about certain characters and less about other things.
- Language: While I actually loved this attention to detail, some may find it makes the reading cumbersome. Palmieri paid particular attention to the dialect of her characters. She brought us that rich southern New Orleans speech from the educated to the rural dialect of the bayou.
- Characters: The characters are unique, and Frances’ story a painful one but as a mother, I had difficulty connected with some of her decisions. I loved Sippy and Jack. I do wish Jack’s father was fleshed out more, but with the past/present timeline, it was difficult to really get to know them all.
With a touch of magical realism, The Witch of Bourbon Street and its story of the Sorrow family delighted me. Suzanne Palmieri is an author whose works I will continue to explore.
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