Monday, February 25, 2013

Love of Shadows by Zoe Brooks

This week I interview award winning author Zoe Brooks, and review her latest book, Love of Shadows.


Love of Shadows is the second book in The Healer's Shadow trilogy. In it the story of Judith and her Shadow Sarah picks up from where it stopped at the end of Girl in the Glass.  

"I had always felt most alive, when I was healing. Without healing I was a tin top spinning out of kilter soon to catch the ground. It took all my energy to hold myself from skidding into chaos."
But in the city of Pharsis traditional women healers are banned from practising and the penalty for breaking the law is death by hanging. After being arrested and interrogated twice Judith is careful to avoid suspicion, but then scarlet fever breaks over the city like a poisonous wave, leaving in its wake the small corpses of children. What will the young healer do?


“Peter,” I say. “I don’t think I’ve changed that dressing for a while.”

The rumble is growing to thunder and there are voices.

I pick up a clean dressing and a pot of ointment from the shelves and walk across the room.

As I bend over the bed, I try not to think of the light of flames moving along the house walls of the square. I try not to see the look of hatred on the faces of the torchbearers. I try not to listen. I try to focus only on Peter and my hand as it peels back the dressing. I try not to listen to the clamour.

Under my breath I say a prayer: “Angels who are blessed, take this darkness from me.”

And the darkness does clear, for a while. The wound is healing, so I apply some ointment to keep it clean and pick up the new dressing.

They are overhead now. There is no escaping the words, the room almost shakes with them: “Burn the witch! Death to the witch!”

My legs fail me and I slip to my knees. I am in the darkest of my nightmares, darkness shot through with flames. “Sarah, they are coming.”


What are your roots?

In terms of my family I am British on both sides, but with a bit of gypsy. I was born and raised in the beautiful Cotswold hills.

In terms of my literary roots I think I would say fairy tales and folk tales, which probably account for my liking for fantasy and for magic realism.

Has your own family story impacted your writing at all?

Well Mother of Wolves is about a fantasy gypsy woman and queen. In Love of Shadows the heroine and narrator Judith is without family, all she has is a Shadow, Sarah. Sarah is sort of a sister, but she is not human. As a Shadow she was born without emotions or emotional intelligence, but has to learn to interpret these strange emotional humans. She is partly based on a relative of mine.

How do you describe yourself as a writer?

I am a British writer, who spends approximately half my life in a semi-restored farmhouse in the Czech Republic, which is where I write my books. I have three novels out – Mother of Wolves (a fantasy adventure), Girl in the Glass (magic realism fantasy) and Love of Shadows, my new book and sequel to Girl in the Glass. All my books have strong if very different heroines who survive and overcome adversity. I like to write popular books that get under the skin of the reader. A number of reviewers have said that the books and the central characters have stayed with them after they finished reading, which is just what I want.

What do you think is the special power of the genres you write in

Women’s fiction can help women understand the world (and men too if they read it). I have two newly adult nieces and I do write with them in mind.

In Magic Realism the setting is realistic but with an element that is magical or fantastical. That combination is unsettling and that is a good thing. It allows me to explore themes more freely. For example my books are set in an unspecified place and time, which I take great care to make very realistic. Some readers really want to know where and when the book is set, but I don’t want to say, for example, “It’s in India a hundred years ago,” (it isn’t), because then the reader thinks that the story is something that happens somewhere else and Judith’s story is universal, a modern fairytale for adults.

Why was it important for you to write this particular novel

Judith. She is a loveable, complex and at times frustrating young woman. I fell in love with her when I wrote Girl in the Glass and wanted to take her further in her journey. Judith’s mother had been a healer, and Judith feels the calling to become a healer, but what will she risk to help people? And will she carry on as it becomes more and more dangerous. In order to bring realism to the book I did a lot of research I was fascinated to read about the persecution of women healers in the 14th to 17th centuries, many thousands were burned or hung as witches.

The book is also a love story. In the first book Judith, like so many girls who have been told that they are worthless, has had some disastrous relationships with abusive men. These relationships have left Judith afraid of getting emotionally involved. In Love of Shadows I wanted to explore  what sort of man could get past her barriers and persuade her that she is worth loving.

What was hard for you in writing this novel?

Judith is a perfume-maker and has both a very keen sense of smell and synaesthesia – she is able to see smells. As she is the narrator of the book I needed to describe the world as she experiences it, which meant a lot of descriptions of scents. So in order to write the book I had to revisit how I experienced the world, no longer relying on my dominant senses of sight and hearing. It was fascinating – I realised how much more I could sense. And then I had to find a way of describing it, it’s shocking how few adjectives we have in the English language to describe smells.

Are there themes that recur in your work?

All my books have strong heroines. A recent review said of Girl in the Glass, the first book in the Healer’s Shadow trilogy, that it was about “what it takes for a woman to find her place in the world and in herself”. The heroines are very different but I think that is true of all my books so far.

What are you working on now?

I am writing the sequel to Love of Shadows, the final book in the Healer’s Shadow trilogy. In it more is revealed about these strange creatures called Shadows and we see Judith mature further.

What would you like to write in the future?

I am also playing with an idea for a paranormal mystery set in a modern day city not dissimilar to Prague. This is a bit of a departure from the settings of my current book, but still magic realism.

If you had to give one piece of advice to women who are searching for something more in their relationships, what would it be?

I think they have to search for themselves first. If you do that then your relationship will follow. Women are very good at losing themselves for the sake of the relationship and that is the wrong thing to do. It may work in the short-term but not in the long. 


When I signed up to review this book it was the cover that drew me in.  It reminded me of time I have spent in the Middle East and time my husband has spent in parts of Western Africa. However, reading the blurb and other reviews I really had no idea what kind of book this was or what  to expect.  I think it was really good not to have preconceived expectations because they would have been shattered.  This book is unlike any book I have ever read (and I've read over a thousand fiction novels in my life).  

The author classifies the genre as "magic realism." I would guess that many people, like myself, don't know what that means.  So, let me clear that up first, because I think it is important that people DO set their expectations correctly in order to approach this work in a mindset that doesn't expect magic, fantasy, witches and warlocks or other things we associate with magic. Magic Realism doesn't mean the book is filled with magic, as in Harry Potter or the average Witch tale.  It doesn't mean the book is filled with action and adventure as one associates with Urban Fantasy or many of the TV fare that includes magic backstories with fighting good and evil, witches and politics.  I also would not put it in the genre of "paranormal." In fact, the word "magic" in my opinion obscures the definition.

I never studied literature, so I know Magical Realism was not a term ingrained in me. I knew that One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was called "magic realism" but I still didn't really know what that meant or why.  Here is a definition I found from Franz Roh (1925) that I believe captures this book and explains the genre in the best way.  I have bolded words in the definition for emphasis from me.

Magical Realism--We recognize the world, although now--not only because we have emerged from a dream--we look on it with new eyes. We are offered a new style that is thoroughly of this world, that celebrates the mundane. This new world of objects is still alien to the current idea of Realism. It employs various techniques that endow all things with a deeper meaning and reveal mysteries that always threaten the secure tranquility of simple and ingenuous things. This [art offers a] calm admiration of the magic of being, of the discovery that things already have their own faces, [this] means that the ground in which the most diverse ideas in the world can take root has been reconquered--albeit in new ways.

More recent popular novels (and movies) that are shelved as Magical Realism are  Like Water for Chocolate, and the recent Academy Award winning Life of Pi.

Those bolded sections in the definition above were beautifully executed in Love of Shadows.  The entire concept of "the Shadow" serves both as metaphor for us as readers, and as reality for the world of the characters.  The deeper meaning of the relationship of "shadows" to this world and to our own is revealed and it does make you think and re-examine your own relationships, prejudices, and philosophies in more depth. At least it did me.

The book drew me in immediately with the  suicide of Judith’s mistress/mentor, Elma.  We learn from the beginning that everything known about Elma's "real" life must be covered up for fear that discovery of her true calling, as a Healer, would put all those in contact with her in danger. Healers are killed--either by mobs who fear them or jailed and put to death by the law.

The book reveals the daily life of a woman who reluctantly learns to accept her own gifts as a gifted healer, and struggles with whether she can accept the call to use those gifts and to risk her life and those around her.  Sarah, her "shadow" appears first as a best friend, like a sister, but who is the opposite. Where Judith is emotional, Sarah is seemingly without emotion. Where Judith is simultaneously driven forward by her demons or her bravery, Sarah moves forward based on logic and planning.  Neither are perfect and, most importantly, neither are whole without the other.

To those used to action, adventure, love and sex serving as the outward tension to move the plot forward, you will need to take a breath to enjoy this book. The plot moves forward based on how the decisions in one's inner life in fact drives one's outer life.  The learned behavior of having learned to fend for oneself--to never count on anyone else for help--is juxtaposed against the absolute need to be affirmed, to be love, and to desire give up control to someone else.  That is played out exceptionally well through emotions of jealousy, distrust, envy, and eventually a very real loss of control. 

The build of those emotions, seamlessly interwoven with the tension of daily life, is based on an underlying treatise that constantly questions the differences and similarities between traditional medicine and modern medicine. It also explores the differences and allocations for care between the classes and between what are termed "humans" and "shadows."  

It is in the heat of the plague that Judith, an underground traditional healer is actually sought out by a modern above-ground medical doctor.  That relationship and all that it means drives the external tension and builds the internal tensions to the climax and beyond.

There are some manuscript formatting/conventions that did bother me.  In particular, was the use of quotes.  In addition to present dialog, the author also used quotes for internal dialog and for dialog in the mind or with someone who was dead. For me, that became very confusing. Perhaps that is a U.K. convention not used in the U.S.  In the U.S. all internal dialog is not quoted, but simply stated. Most presses in the U.S. also designate dialog in the mind (whether with an imaginary person or an actual person, as in mind-reading or talking with a dead person) is usually done in italics to differentiate it from the present "real" world.

In the end, I really enjoyed the book and I heartily applaud the author for taking on magic realism and so successfully executing it.  I had not read the first book, and did not find that to be a detriment to my enjoyment. I definitely believed in the entire world without question. I accepted it as reality and appreciated its nuances. The descriptions were beautiful and there were many paragraphs, phrases, and passages that showed the heart of a poet.  For readers who want something unique that speaks to the heart of relationships, prejudice, and the difficult decisions one must make to lead in the face of unspeakable tragedy, then this is a book you will not want to pass up.  Also, if you want a great example of magic realism literature that is well-executed I would highly recommend this novel.

Buy Links: Amazon | iBooks


Zoe Brooks is a British writer and poet, who spends half her life in a partly restored old farmhouse in the Czech Republic, where she writes all her novels and poetry. She aims to write popular books, which have complex characters and themes that get under the reader's skin.

Zoe was a successful published poet in her teens and twenties, (featuring in the Grandchildren of Albion anthology). Girl In The Glass - the first novel in a trilogy about the woman and healer Anya was published on Amazon in March 2012, followed by Mother of Wolves and Love of Shadows. In May 2012 she published her long poem for voices Fool's Paradise as an ebook on Amazon.

Visit Zoe on the Web:  Blog | Twitter | Facebook | GoodReads | Amazon Author Page

* * * GIVEAWAY * * *

Zoe will be awarding a $25 Amazon gift card to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour. Remember, the more tour stops you visit and comment, the better your chances of winning the drawing.

Tour Stops

January 14:  Carly Fall - Where Fantasy Meets Romance
January 21:  Rogue's Angels
January 21:  STOP 2  It's Raining Books
January 28:  Book 'Em North Carolina
February 4:  Writers and Authors
February 11:  Storm Goddess Book Reviews and More
February 18:  White Sky Project
February 25:  Maggie's Meanderings (You Are Here!)
February 25:  REVIEW ONLY Journey of a Bookseller
March 4:  The Muse Unleashed
March 11:  Night Owl Reviews


Zoe Brooks said...

Thank you for featuring me on your blog. I am currently in the Czech Republic writing the final book in the trilogy, so I am about 6 hrs ahead of the US and 1 hr ahead of the UK, which means it's near my bedtime. If anyone feels like asking me any questions please do, I will popping back tomorrow.

Maggie Jaimeson said...

Hi Zoe, Thank you for coming by. The review is now up. Again my apologies. I want to thank you for writing such an AMAZING book. It is after reading your book that I had to learn what Magical Realism is in literature (thus the little teaching lesson as part of the review). Now I have to go get the first book and the third one.

Evelyn Bohn said...

Maggie, I am so glad you took the time to explain what Magical Realism is. I've read other reviews of this book and I think they didn't understand that based on what they said. You made it sound really interesting. A different reviewer said the shadow was a twin. But I can see from your review that it is much more than that.

Now I'm going to expand my mind and go get this book.

Lena said...

Great review, thank you for sharing!


Lyra L7 said...

It sounds quite good, looking forward to reading this one!

lyra.lucky7 at gmail dot com

Zoe Brooks said...

Maggie, thank you for such a lovely review. Definitely worth waiting for! It is wonderful when a reviewer takes the time to think about and research a book and I do appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the chance to win!

hense1kk AT cmich dot edu!

Andra Lyn said...

Hi again Zoe! I'm just hopping along this tour and checking you out! I love being able to get a better understanding of you, your book, and the characters! Thanks for doing this tour :)

andralynn7 AT gmail DOT com

Mary Preston said...

The research you must have done for your character to be a perfume maker would have been very interesting.


Zoe Brooks said...

Yes, Mary. The research was fascinating. I spent a couple of days in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and one of the books I found was from the 18/19th Century and was an instruction book for perfume makers. I also found an old book which listed the tell-tale smells of disease. Doctors don't use their noses to diagnose now, but traditional healers did. So when Judith in the book says that scarlet smells of bread, that is accurate.

Stephanie Manning said...

Great interview. Sounds like a great book as well! I will have to check this one out!

Zoe Brooks said...

Thank you for all your comments.
Maggie following your review I did some checking up on how to indicate thought. There's an interesting article on the subject here:

It looks as though both italics and quotation marks are acceptable

Maggie Jaimeson said...

Thank you for sharing the article on quotes, Zoe. I agree that the grammar books would indicate it was author preference--much like certain types of comma placement are considered party of the author voice or style.

In my memory, the use or non-use of quotes is a house style--also one of those things that has changed over the years in fiction. When I began writing fiction and publishing short stories in the late 1970's and early 1980's the use of quotes for both internal and external dialog was quite acceptable, as was significantly more use of italics for emphasis.

When I began submitting again in the late 1990's it had changed at most short story venues in the U.S. The trend had become not to use quotes for internal dialog, but to use italics. In 2003 and 2004, when I began submitting novels, the trend was not to use quotes or italics for internal dialog/reflective self talk. What many editors call close third person POV or deep POV is stated.

I speak only from my limited experience. The convention may also be a different between genre fiction and literary fiction, or between US conventions and European conventions.

Here are some additional Internet resources from editors at US publishers that share a more defined view.

In any case, your book is still very well-written.

Zoe Brooks said...

Thanks for the useful links, Maggie.

Zoe Brooks said...

Just to say Love of Shadows is free 27th and 28th on Amazon

Zoe Brooks said...

Happy New Year, Maggie.

I have taken your advice and changed the punctuation.

The last book in the trilogy The Company of Shadows is now out.