Floats the Dark Shadow
By Yves Fey
Reviewed by Anna Belfrage
It must be an indication of just how engrossed I was by this book that I used my expired boarding pass to bookmark it as I got ready to disembark – I was reading on my Kindle.
How to start? How does one describe a book that so vividly paints another time, another place? Maybe we should start where it all takes place, Paris in the last few years of the 19th century. The city is a greenhouse of creativity – when has Paris not been that – and poets, painters, musicians, they all converge on the French capital, reinventing the art forms, creating new ones and generally revelling in youth and life – and sin.
Paris is brought to magnificent life. Not only as it stands in the 19th century, but also as it was, with excellent descriptions in passing of one quartier or the other, the history of the Salpetrière, of Montmartre. But Paris is not a kind city, it is a city where the dark stands side by side with the light, and the author does an excellent job of depicting the decay and the poverty against which the glories of Belle Epoque Paris stand in sharp contrast.
I would be willing to bet a substantial part of my salary that Yves Fey paints; how else to explain the author’s vibrant and precise description, from the cherry blossoms on a rainy day, to the Moulin de la Galette in sunset. It is also extremely apparent just how much time and effort our author has invested in researching Paris as it was – and to my delight, this is not restricted to buildings and streets, to anecdotes about the French Revolution or the Paris Commune, but also encompasses painters and, most of all, poets.
In reading Floats the Dark Shadow, I am reintroduced to poets such as Baudelaire and Rimbaud, Moréas and Verlaine. Ms Fey also breathes life into the fascinating – and rather macabre - story surrounding Joan of Arc and one of her most flamboyant captains, Gilles de Rais. This ancient story forms an essential background to the sinister events that unfold during two brief months in the decadent Paris of the late 19th century, and to further spice things up, we have Satanists and dabblers in the occult, we have an angry seething city, with anarchists and revolutionaries calling for death to the bourgeoisie, and then we have Theo.
Theo is a young American woman who, through a series of events, has ended up in Paris where she paints. Through her French cousin, Averill, Theo has become a member of an avant-garde group that call themselves Les Revenants. Young and driven by passion to change the world, Theo’s companions live right on the edge, drinking absinthe and attending some rather odd events, such as a concert in the catacombs of Paris, the living audience complemented by the thousands upon thousands of skulls that adorn the surrounding walls. (Very evocative, let me tell you.)
And then, the children start disappearing. Pretty boys, mostly, now and then a girl. Quite often children no one will miss – or with parents too poor to demand the attention of the police. One of these children is a boy Theo knows. Another of these children is the protégé of one of Paris’ foremost mobsters, and he does have the clout to get the police moving, which is when Michel Devaux enters the scene. Yet another child Theo knows disappears. And another. One of these children – a blind little girl – is discovered gruesomely murdered, and the only link Inspector Devaux finds is that all the children, in one way or the other, have had contact with one or more of Les Revenants.
Floats the Dark Shadow is told mainly through the eyes of Theo and Michel. One is a young woman besotted with her cousin, who now and then worries her absinthe-addicted cousin may be the culprit; the other is a determined officer of the law, a man combating demons of his own. As the book progresses, Theo and Michel grow into complete human beings – especially Michel, a man whose character has been tempered through terrible loss and staggering guilt. Theo is less complex, but this is in keeping with her youth, so it never jars. In many ways, Floats the Dark Shadow is a coming-of-age novel, because by the time the novel ends, Theo has lost her innocence, her basic belief in the goodness of man. Once lost, such innocence cannot be recaptured. “Two months and all of it was gone. The evil destroyed. Love destroyed.”
It is to Ms Fey’s credit that she presents us with a tormented villain. Borderline insane, this modern day Gilles de Rais has lost his way. His atrocious deeds make us shudder; the despair in his actions is evident, and while I condemn him, I also find myself wishing this deformed, cruel soul will find some rest. I was also very impressed by how skilfully Ms Fey wove her plot, keeping the reader in suspense well into the last few chapters. While the book ends on a rather sad tone, it could not have ended otherwise. Besides, there is always hope, there is always a tomorrow, and we leave Theo as she prepares to embrace a new phase of her life, far from the recent horrors she has experienced.
Floats the Dark Shadow is not for the lazy reader. The first few chapters do not immediately hook, and then there are these constant literary references – a delight for those among us who have stumbled upon them before, perhaps a challenge to others. But for those that persevere beyond the first few pages, Yves Fey will prove a fantastic guide into the long-gone Paris of the Belle Epoque. The language is sensuous and rich, it weaves a tapestry of sound and scents, of events and emotions, which transports the reader to those brief weeks a long-gone May, when the trees rained cherry blossoms from above, while in the darker recesses of the city, evil prowled.
Merci, Mme Fey, pour une expérience inoubliable. I will not, I think, ever forget just how dark the shadow can float.
Ms Fey has kindly offered an e-book giveaway, and all you have to do to be in the draw is to leave a comment here or on our Facebook page. If you just can’t live with the suspense of waiting for the giveaway, Ms Fey’s book is also available on Amazon.
About the author:
Yves Fey has an MFA in Creative Writing from Eugene Oregon, and a BA in Pictorial Arts from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She has read, written, and created art from childhood, and is an ardent movie buff. In her varied career, she has been a tie dye artist, go-go dancer, baker, creator of ceramic beasties, illustrator, fiction teacher, and now, novelist. A chocolate connoisseur, she's won prizes for her desserts. (A woman after my own heart!) Her current fascination is creating perfumes inspired by her new novel. For more about the author and her work, see her web page.
Anna Belfrage is the author of four published books, all part of The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, the books tell the story of Matthew Graham and his time-travelling wife, Alex Lind. Anna can be found on Amazon, Twitter, Facebook and on her website. If you would like Anna to review your book, please see our submissions tab above.