I had my doubts about Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert, but it turned out to be a pretty good book. The main character, Gabriel, is a remote viewer, what we might call a psychic. He can pick up thoughts of people living and recently dead and while he was in college he worked on a project that found missing persons. Gabriel was the best remote viewer in the project.
The book takes place years later and Gabriel and his friend are information thieves. Generally they are hired by a company to steal information from a competing company. And they are good at it. Along comes Frankie, Gabriel’s ex-girlfriend from college who is also a remote viewer but not even close to Gabriel’s abilities. She’s married to a man who is many years her senior and who is dying. Her husband’s son, Frankie’s stepson, Robbie, disappeared not long ago and Frankie has come to ask Gabriel to help them find out what happened. Gabriel eventually agrees because he is still in love with Frankie.
It turns out Robbie is dead, Gabriel experiences his death via remote viewing, and the suspects are two sisters, Minnaloushe and Morrighan Monk, wealthy and beautiful. Gabriel worms his way into their friendship with the intent of finding out what happened to Robbie, but ends up getting a lot more than he has bargained for because the sisters also have an agenda too.
The story is interesting and moves along at a fairly quick pace. The one thing I didn’t like about it is that from early on, just as tension is starting to build, we find out that the story is being told by Gabriel after the events being narrated. This puts a big damper on the tension for me because I knew that no matter how much danger Gabriel was in, he would be okay in the end. Mostert tries to keep the reader on edge by having Gabriel fall in love with one of the sisters and then playing up Gabriel’s not knowing if the sister he has fallen in love with is the murderer. It works to a point, but I would have preferred not knowing ahead of time things would turn out fine for Gabriel.
What really held my interest in the book were the elements of alchemy and memory. The sisters are alchemists, but alchemy is about transformation, not turning lead into gold. They are seeking spiritual transformation through the means of the creation of an elaborate memory palace. They believe that at a certain point the knowledge contained within their memory palace will propel them into a sort of mind of God knowledge and thus, enlightenment. The sisters have an amazing memory which provides moments for contrast and commentary on how poor our memories are in the 21st century since we rely on our computers to remember for us.
I had not heard of a memory palace before, but it turns out to be a very real and ancient method of remembering things and is even used today by serious people who compete in memory competitions. Wikipedia has a nice article on the subject. I’ve always found memory to be a fascinating topic and now I have something new to look into. In a note in the back of the book, Mostert recommends The Art of Memory by Frances A. Yates which has become a classic history of memory palaces and the art of memory. I’m definitely going to have to get my hands on a copy of that.