M.J. ROSE grew up in New York City mostly in the labyrinthine galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, the dark tunnels and lush gardens of Central Park and reading her mother's favorite books before she was allowed. She is the author of more than a dozen novels, the co-president and founding board member of International Thriller Writers, and the founder of the first marketing company for authors: AuthorBuzz.com. She lives in Greenwich, Connecticut.
As World War I rages and the Romanov dynasty reaches its sudden, brutal end, a young jewelry maker discovers love, passion, and her own healing powers in this rich and romantic ghost story, the perfect follow-up to M.J. Rose’s “brilliantly crafted” (Providence Journal) novel The Witch of Painted Sorrows.
Nestled within Paris’s historic Palais Royal is a jewelry store unlike any other. La Fantasie Russie is owned by Pavel Orloff, protégé to the famous Faberge, and is known by the city’s fashion elite as the place to find the rarest of gemstones and the most unique designs. But war has transformed Paris from a city of style and romance to a place of fear and mourning. In the summer of 1918, places where lovers used to walk, widows now wander alone.
So it is from La Fantasie Russie’s workshop that young, ambitious Opaline Duplessi now spends her time making trench watches for soldiers at the front, as well as mourning jewelry for the mothers, wives, and lovers of those who have fallen. People say that Opaline’s creations are magical. But magic is a word Opaline would rather not use. The concept is too closely associated with her mother Sandrine, who practices the dark arts passed down from their ancestor La Lune, one of sixteenth century Paris’s most famous courtesans.
But Opaline does have a rare gift even she can’t deny, a form of lithomancy that allows her to translate the energy emanating from stones. Certain gemstones, combined with a personal item, such as a lock of hair, enable her to receive messages from beyond the grave. In her mind, she is no mystic, but merely a messenger, giving voice to soldiers who died before they were able to properly express themselves to loved ones. Until one day, one of these fallen soldiers communicates a message—directly to her.
July 19, 1918
“Are you Opaline?” the woman asked before she even stepped all the way into the workshop. From the anxious and distraught tone of her voice, I guessed she hadn’t come to talk about commissioning a bracelet for her aunt or having her daughter’s pearls restrung.
Though not a soldier, this woman was one of the Great War’s wounded, here to engage in the dark arts in the hopes of finding sol- ace. Was it her son or her brother, husband, or lover’s fate that drove her to seek me out?
France had lost more than one million men, and there were battles yet to be fought. We’d suffered the second largest loss of any country in any war in history. No one in Paris remained untouched by tragedy.
What a terrible four years we’d endured. The Germans had placed La Grosse Bertha, a huge cannon, on the border between Picardy and Champagne. More powerful than any weapon ever built, she proved able to send shells 120 kilometers and reach us in Paris.
Since the war began, Bertha had shot more than 325 shells into our city. By the summer of 1918, two hundred civilians had died, and almost a thousand more were hurt. We lived in a state of anticipation and readiness. We were on the front too, as much at risk as our soldiers.
The last four months had been devastating. On March 11, the Vincennes Cemetery in the eastern inner suburbs was hit and hundreds of families lost their dead all over again when marble tombs and granite gravestones shattered. Bombs continued falling into the night. Buildings all over the city were demolished; craters appeared in the streets.
Three weeks later, more devastation. The worst Paris had suffered yet. On Good Friday, during a mass at the Saint-Gervais and Saint-Protais Church, a shell hit and the whole roof collapsed on the congregation. Eighty-eight people were killed; another sixty- eight were wounded. And all over Paris many, many more suffered psychological damage. We became more worried, ever more afraid. What was next? When would it happen? We couldn’t know. All we could do was wait.
In April there were more shellings. And again in May. One hit a hotel in the 13th Arrondissement, and because Bertha’s visits were silent, without warning, sleeping guests were killed in their beds.
By the middle of July, there was still no end in sight.
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