The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

Italy 1899: Fiery-tempered, erotic medium Alessandra Poverelli levitates a table at a 23710526Spiritualist séance in Naples. A reporter photographs the miracle, and wealthy, skeptical, Jewish psychiatrist Camillo Lombardi arrives in Naples to investigate. When she materializes the ghost of his dead mother, he risks his reputation and fortune to finance a tour of the Continent, challenging the scientific and academic elite of Europe to test Alessandra’s mysterious powers. She will help him rewrite Science. His fee will help her escape her sadistic husband Pigotti and start a new life in Rome. Newspapers across Europe trumpet her Cinderella story and baffling successes, and the public demands to know – does the “Queen of Spirits” really have supernatural powers? Nigel Huxley is convinced she’s simply another vulgar, Italian trickster. The icy, aristocratic detective for England’s Society for the Investigation of Mediums launches a plot to trap and expose her. The Vatican is quietly digging up her childhood secrets, desperate to discredit her supernatural powers; her abusive husband Pigotti is coming to kill her; and the tarot cards predict catastrophe. Praised by Kirkus Reviews as an “enchanting and graceful narrative that absorbs readers from the first page,” The Witch of Napoli masterfully resurrects the bitter, 19th century battle between Science and religion over the possibility of an afterlife. –

This book was just okay for me.  The description was riveting and I liked the idea of a ‘witch’ in this time period; however, I was disappointed there seemed to be more drama about Alessandra’s life instead of displays and investigations of her supernatural powers.

Until reading the author’s note at the end, I didn’t realize this book was based on a real person – Euspai Palladino, so I’m not sure what was real and what was fabricated in this story.  My favorite parts of the book were the séance scenes and learning the techniques the investigators used to prevent trickery by mediums.

I struggled with the characters in this story as they seemed rather flat and underdeveloped and some moved in and out of the story so quickly I never completely grasped who they were.  The reader knows early on that the narrator, Tomas, is in love with Alessandra, but I never understood the basis for this – it seemed like it was something thrown in just to add interest.

From other reviews I’ve seen, most readers enjoyed this book more than I, so maybe it’s just a matter of preference in what you look for in your reading, but this The Witch of Napoli just didn’t grab me like I’d hoped.

This review is based on a digital copy from the publisher through NetGalley.


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