*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*
Later he would retire to his room in the upper floors of the hotel, to wash up and lie in the bed and try to ignore the auguries in the cracks in the ceiling. Maybe some song would be playing faintly through the walls – Fats Waller, or Teddy Wilson – and reluctantly his mind would return to the fires. As the hours ticked on and the hotel went to sleep, his thoughts would shuffle along hallways of loss, down corridors of grief, to his unpaid debt. Sometimes the debt felt like a guillotine above him waiting to fall; sometimes it felt less sinister, like the arrival of one of those clammy-fisted kitchen equipment salesmen who came slumping through the lobby’s front doors, briefcase in hand, silhouetted with the sun at their backs. Always with the sun at their backs. Your couldn’t see their faces, even when they’d come to sell you something rather than take it from you.
Lately he’d begun thinking of writing it all down. He thought it might help shut the door on all those shadowy hallways and lonely corridors. And also he wanted others to know what had happened, to bear witness. Which presented the problem: there were those who wanted to keep things quiet. This wouldn’t stop him from doing it, of course. Their need for obscurity and his need for peace was just the way it was.
It would always be that way. Always.
Sssshhhhhhhh… For Edwardian-era spiritualists and illusionists, silence is more than a strategy; it’s a way of life. And when Max Grahame, a bullied small-town teen, discovers a secretive world of occultism and séances right under his nose, he can hardly contain his excitement.
But as Max begins his conjurer’s lessons in earnest, his newfound knowledge exposes the group’s dark and deeply sinister designs, leading to a game of supernatural cat and mouse that takes him from the ancient hills of rural Georgia and the mystic plains of the Midwest to fin-de-siècle Manhattan… and beyond.
The Occultists is a novel that plunges the reader back to early twentieth century America, where spiritualism, mysticism, and illusionists were in their heyday. Meticulously researched and using historic events and real people and occult leaders to lend credence to the story, only makes this fantastical story that much easier to immerse yourself in. From the surgical implantation of goat testicles to spark virility, to levitation and séances, early 1900’s spiritualism is provides the texture and driving force of this novel, immediately setting the reader up for shadows, secrets, and incredible feats.
The unfortunate and challenging events of our young protagonist Max’s life, from an unhappy adolescent home to being thrust into a deadly battle between two ancient conjuring factions, are fraught with secrets and danger, and make for a mesmerising story. Simple things like a teenage crush take on a deeper meaning as Max becomes embroiled in a world he doesn’t understand, yet is somehow integral to. Fleeing to save his own life and the life of his sickly mother, Max must grow up fast and learn to control the power within him. But no one is what they seem and despite making leaps and bounds in this strange new reality, Max is frequently left feeling unmoored and confused.
Schattel’s writing is rich and descriptive, the packing of the story is well laid out and executed, and her characters solid and charismatic. The Occultists is a novel that will greatly interest any reader already drawn to the wonderous world of illusion, power, and magic.
About the Author –
POLLY SCHATTEL is originally from Birmingham, AL, but prefers the hills of Colorado and Western North Carolina. A filmmaker with a host of award-winning feature films under her belt, she returned to the written word when she had the bright idea that maybe she could tell her stories without spending years raising money for them first. She’s taught Film Directing, Film Editing, and Screenwriting in the UNC university system, NYC, and elsewhere. Proudly and passionately transgender, Polly lives in the mountains near Asheville, NC with her wife and three vicious and savage but very adorable animals.
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