The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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July 20, 2012

'I'm so sorry about your shoes,' I said akwardly.

  'Such a talented man,' Mary said, shifting in her chair. 'He has grown so popular I was fortunate to secure his services.' Her feet twinkled in the firelight, the silver embroidery on her richly colored slippers picking up hints of red, orange, and gold. I wondered idly who had designed the intricate pattern for the embroidery. Had I been closer, I would have asked to touch the stitches. Champier had been able to read my flesh with his fingers. Could an intimate object provide similar information?
     Though my fingers were nowhere near the countess's shoes, I saw the face if a young woman. She was peering at a sheet of paper with the design for Mary's shoes on it. Tiny holes along the lines of the drawings solved the mystery of how its intricacies had been transferred to leather. Focusing on the drawing, my mind's eye took several steps backward in time. Now I saw Mary sitting with a stern, stubborn-jawed man, a table full of insect and plant specimens before them. Both were talking with great animation about a grasshopper, and when the man began to describe it in detail, Mary took up its pen and sketched its outlines. 
      So Mary is interested in plants and insects, as well as alchemy, I thought, searching her shoes for the grasshopper. There it was, on the heel. So lifelike. And the bee on her right toe looked as though it might fly away at any moment. A faint buzzing sound filled my ears as the silver-and-black bee detached itself from the Countess of Pembroke's shoe and took to the air. 
      'Oh, no,' I gasped. 
      'What a strange bee,' Henry commented, swatting as it flew past. But I was looking instead at the snake that was slithering off Mary's foot and into the rushes. 'Matthew!' He shot forward and lifted the snake by the tail. It extended its forked tongue and hissed indignantly at the rough treatment. With a flick of his wrist, he tossed the snake into the fire, where it sizzled for a moment before catching light. 
      'I didn't mean...' I trailed off. 
      'It's all right, mon coeur. You cannot help it.' Matthew touched my cheek before he looked at the countess, who was staring down at her mismatching slippers. 'We need a witch, Mary. There is some urgency.'

from Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness

After discovering A Discovery of Witches last year, and liking it very much, in spite of my book-snobbish self, I was so excited when Viking Penguin so kindly offered me a preview of this (just-published) second book in the trilogy.  At the beginning, I found myself being very glad that I had read the first book first, because its modern setting, its mood (alternating between darkness and humor), and its supporting cast (the aunts) drew me in a little more than this one's.  But it's growing on me, and I'm determined to find enough time to finish it. It's just that this is a tough time (I'm moving on Monday) to be in the middle of two wonderful books, but I am not complaining! {So I'll be absent for a little while ... I hope you enjoy your snatches, or long spells, of reading, in the meantime, as much as I will!}

{I couldn't find a picture of shoes, though it was fun looking, but I did find this wonderful Elizabethan dress, here, which the Countess could buy to cheer herself up.}


Anonymous said...

I recently discovered A Discovery of Witches as well, with a similar reaction. I can't wait to hear more about its sequel!

Darlene said...

Haha! I know exactly what you mean about being book-snobbish but this does have an awfully intriguing quality about it. Love the accompanying photo as well, that's quite a dress!

Bellezza said...

Great. Now I have to read Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night. :)

Loved the accompanying photograph and passage you included in this post, and congratulations on scoring a copy of your own!

Thank you for visiting!

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