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The Book of Shadows (Herculine #1)

3.3  ·  Rating details ·  1,105 Ratings  ·  136 Reviews
Alone among the young girls taught by nuns at a convent school in nineteenth-century France, orphaned Herculine has neither wealth nor social connections. When she's accused of being a witch, the shy student is locked up with no hope of escape ... until her rescue by a real witch, the beautiful, mysterious Sebastiana. Swept away to the witch's manor, Herculine will enter a ...more
ebook, 640 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published January 1st 2002)
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Jun 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Please note: I read and reviewed this book in June 2011 from a copy I purchased for myself. I'm just adding some formatting.

My response to negative reviews: I'd like to address the various negative reviews I've seen; many people have complained about the eroticism of this book. While there are indeed some sensual scenes, they are much milder than in many books I have read. I think the main problem that people have is with the bisexual aspect of it. If that will bother you, then this is obviously
Aug 28, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
i try not to hate on too many books. i mean, if i'm going to devote a huge chunk of my time and brain to a book, i always try to find something worthwhile in it.

but i hated this book. i tried so, so long to hold onto my fleeting hope that there was something worthwhile in its pages. i told my self (in vain) that it was at the least technically well-written.

but lordy, lordy, how BORING it is. a nearly-500 page book made up of 20% story and 80% minutiae. ugh. for the life of it, this book couldn'
Junkie for the Written Word
The preface to this book should have read, "No homo."

This book was meticulously researched and for that reason it got an extra star. Most of the time you find someone writing a historical novel set in the 1800s and they somehow know about things like chromosomes and the law of thermodynamics. I will name no names, you know who you are.

My main complaints with the book were:

A) Sex. Boring perverted sex that served no purpose. If there is a person out there who was getting hot and bothered by the
Terri Kempton
You know those trainwreck movies that are bad, but so amusingly bad, you stick with them until the end? This book is like that - in terrible want of an editor, both for redundant and contradictory content and for length (nearly 500 pages) - it's just awful and yet I couldn't walk away.

Some points won for an interesting revisioning of Paris before, during, and after the Revolution. Some points docked for overly gruesome accounts of witch trials, tortures, burnings, and beheadings. I'm surprising
Wait, there's a sequel to this? gtfo.

You know what's really sad? When you pick up a book, and it starts amazingly, and you're sucked in right away... because the story is fascinating, and the writing is so lush - a little bit wordy, maybe, but still very pretty. And you're all gleeful that you've found a five-star book, after you've put off reading it for so long because it's 70,000 pages long with the world's tiniest font. When there's ALL THAT, and then you end up giving it TWO STARS.


The s
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Oct 29, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those Interested in Witches; French History, Dark Fantasy
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Ultimate Reading List
Like Rice's Interview with the Vampire, this is sensual and sexual and interweaves a subject of the horror genre--in this case witches--with well-crafted historical fiction. Set in the France of around 1830, this is mostly the first person narrative of Herculine--the very name was a hint of her nature given the famous French hermaphrodite Herculine Barbin. She is a man, a woman--and a witch.

I found this novel a page turner--the details are lush and vivid without being flowery or overdone, makin
Dustin Wood
Mar 29, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-unreadable
I respect anyone that works hard. And I have no doubt that good Mr. Reese worked very, very hard on this novel. However, he worked too hard. There is quite a difference in prose that is lush and opens up to the reader as if he or she comes through a thicket to find an verdant magical glade and the sort that becomes obsessed with itself and stumbles haphazardly over its own love of the thesaurus. James Reese lapses into the later of these two quite often. His love of eloquent language is admirabl ...more
Feb 26, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It was well written yet sloppy. Boring yet fascinating. And at the end, bad despite having a few good parts. Calling Herculine's convent C___ was a bad choice he repeated often. On one page alone, he referred to the convent by C____ 3 times, when an adj or verb would have worked better. He does with other places and names but not all. It was just so awful the writing choices made here. I kept looking for intention and failing, I have no idea why he made these choices. I honestly can't remember t ...more
Edwina Callan
Jun 18, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookcrossing, 2016
Finally finished this one!
I can sum this book up in three words ... bore, snore, chore.
The first hundred pages or so were pretty good but then it just derailed itself, turned into a travelogue, and droned on and on and on about not much of anything for hundreds and hundreds of pages.
My advice is to read through the other reviews before diving into this book, it seems that most readers have not enjoyed this book anymore than I did.
Jun 27, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book… this book!!!

Oh my goodness, what a train wreck this book was. I wanted to like it, I really did, but it was SUCH a pain to read. I literally had to force myself every single time. It wasn’t a bad book, mind you. The writing is very beautiful. Which makes it all the more sad because it was so very dreadfully long to read.

You see, reading this book was akin to getting a history lesson shoved down your throat. Yes, dear mister author, we realize that you did a lot of research on the hi
Apr 13, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 01, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nobody
Recommended to Tiffany by: found in the library
Shelves: fiction, fantasy, boring
Well, I got through it. I finished it and sent it back to the library, where it can stay. I didn't like this book. I wanted to. I wanted to for the historical value, the cool witchcraftery, the gothic EVERYTHING. But I didn't. It got too weird, too graphic, too erotic, too bizarre, and it lost me.
Enjoyable, but not wholly satisfying. Left too many unanswered questions and plot holes that needed to be flushed out more. And the ending? Hello Titanic...NO. I know this is supposed to be fantastical, but come on...let's add a little reality, huh?
Christina Francine
The Book of Shadows
James Reese
Harper Collins Publishers Inc.
PB 468
ISBN #0-06-621015-1
Hard Cover
Review by Christina Francine

How many people were brutally murdered during the Great European Witch Hunt? The numbers are as varied as the opinions and rumors. One theory is from witch hunting propaganda based upon theories from systematic studies from witch trials and speculation. It claims over 50,000 executions. Of that roughly were women. The other study is based on act
Althea Ann
Mixed feeling about this one... it had potential to be several good things. In the end, however, I feel that it pretty much missed the mark on all of them.
In the "positive" column: Blasphemy! Witches! A priest-incubus! A bloody revenant! A hermaphrodite schoolgirl!
In the "negative" column... a slow-as-molasses plot that suffers from ADHD, and an inexplicable middle-of-the-road approach to the outrageous subject material.
OK, our protagonist is intersex - but this is no "Middlesex." This is not a
Aug 28, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A mixed bunch this book. First of all; I have just read a lot of reviews tha say there was too much sex. On the contrary I think there wasn't actually that much at all. I have certainly read books with a lot more and with more detail. I love the historical aspect and look for books, a good deal of the time that satisfy that need! This book was recomended by one of my favourite authors; Diana Gabaldon so I couldn't wait to try it, and yes there were those parts that were well rooted in historical ...more
Jul 12, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ugh-won-t-go-on
Pretentious rot-gut. A convent named C-----. WHY WON'T HE TELL US THE NAME OF THE DAMNED CONVENT?? And all those DESCRIPTONS.
I have had this book with me for years and I pick it every once in a while, aiming to patiently read every word and finally finish the book. I usually spend a few hours, mutter some choice...let's call them course-words at the author and his publishers and fling the piece of...let's call it sheets far away from me.
My latest attempt was yesterday. I got cross eyed when the
Aaron Carson
Dec 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Quite an amazing read. The first section is quite engaging in it's descriptions. It manages to be quite in depth, without being bewildering. I did have trouble with some of the scenes described in the flashbacks. I'm not a great fan of grizzly torture, but in this case of course it's quite relevant.

The book is the first book I've read about witchcraft, which does not take a defined political stance on religion, apart of course from more naive fairy tale styled books. There are members of a numb
This book was laborious to get through. The premise sounded interesting to me; historical fiction with a supernatural twist. Too bad all of the characters were flat and boring! The plot was incredibly slow moving and very muddled. The novel begins with a young French girl in a school run by nuns. She was orphaned at a young age. From there it gets crazy. Is she really a he? Nope, a hermaphrodite. She winds up outcasted by the other students and is forced to try to flee for her life. She is “resc ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 22, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book just enough to grab the second one in the series. That being said...For most of the book, I found myself thinking what the hell? At several points I was asked what I was reading. I have to tell you, I lied. Its an ok read, but youd be pretty embarrassed if someone said, "You know that book you were reading? I got it and oh my goodness, what were you thinking reading that?!"

There was a lot of sex in this book. A lot. Not the normal kind either; The kind that makes you feel dirt
Tabitha Tomala
Too much description! This is the first thought as I read this book. I love the storyline and the originality put into Herculine but really? Half this book was pages upon pages of useless description. I could not keep a clear image in my mind of what was going on because of the wordiness.
The back stories of each character were interesting, I especially liked the succubus and incubus' stories. Sabine's was rather dull and uneventful though it did provide a good baseline for how witches act/are or
Naphtali Gaither
Jul 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really, really enjoyed this book. It was well researched, the language was poetic, and the characters were complex. The only thing that prevented me from giving it five stars was Reese's endless digressions that would just drone on for pages at a time.
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

This book had some interesting moments, the start, the tale of Madeleine was interesting even though it disrupted the narrative and the magic had potential but it never really felt like it came together.

I skipped over the last 140 pages because I grew so bored of the travelogue and the characters talking over each other and being so introspective all the time. Too much description and not enough plot.
Robert Beveridge
James Reese, The Book of Shadows (Morrow, 2002)

James Reese's debut novel gives us nineteenth-century France's dark side in a grisly, but often interesting, way. Herculine sees the unexpected, ugly death of her mother just before she's consigned to a convent. There, being studious, she becomes the mother superior's pet. When the mother superior's rather diabolic niece comes to stay, she is put into Herculine's care and tutelage. The girl ends up getting them both into a world of trouble, the end
Chip Hunter
An excellent plot and a very interesting idea, but it kinda leaves you hanging. The characters and the mystery of this book were some of the best that I have encountered. However, throughout the book, a lot of time was spent on describing events of the past and experiences of others, while leaving the main character doing exciting things such as reading other books, ect. While the book was very enjoyable, and I would even recommend it to my friends, I really wanted something more from it. Some g ...more
Feb 25, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well, this was disappointing. This is a book trying desperately to be a high fantasy epic and it starts that way. There's a good premise, some potentially interesting characters, a nice use of language..all the foundations for a wonderful story. Unfortunately, we spend the first half of the book going through minutiae and boring day to day detail. The entire grounding and backstory could have been covered in less than 3 chapters, but here we are 3k pages in before anything happens that doesn't r ...more
Robert Negut
To put it shortly, it is the readable version of a Book of Shadows that might have been written by a skilled witch, Wiccan perhaps. Then again, it isn't, being too fantastic to be believable if you take it by Wiccan concepts.
I can see a potential here, but the writer obviously doesn't know where to stop. Reading this book got one phrase swimming through my head: "This is what nightmares are made from."
Seeing the praise from Anne Rice on the cover made me expect a lot from it and it didn't meet t
Susan Morris
I disagree with many of the critics who tear this book to pieces. They say it has no plot, that it's poorly written, that the pacing is so uneven that the book is unreadable. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this book in my opinion. It's good poolside fiction. It's well researched and the author uses the tools of his craft well. I may even go on to read the sequel, next time I have a few hours to kill.

Now for the criticism. It's just not very deep, profound, memorable, or challenging. It h
May 25, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm really at a loss of words for this book. It was very good at some parts but that didn't make up for all the back stories and unneeded history lessons. I get back stories and flashbacks but there has to be a limit and this author gave no heed to limits. There were constant back stories and actual history that I personally found unnecessary. Plus I found it annoying that the author seemed all of his readers would no French. I would have enjoyed some footnotes on these phrases and words.
The pl
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Peronette 2 16 May 17, 2012 03:37PM  
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James Reese was born on eastern Long Island. He attended the University of Notre Dame and the State University of NY at Stony Brook, where he received an MA in Theatre. As an undergraduate, he had a play staged off-Broadway at the Actors Repertory Theatre. While living in New York, New Orleans and Key West, Reese held various jobs in the non-profit sector, working on behalf of the arts and the env ...more
More about James Reese...

Other Books in the Series

Herculine (3 books)
  • The Book of Spirits (Herculine, #2)
  • The Witchery (Herculine, #3)

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