M. F. Bloxam The Night Battles

ISBN 13: 9781579621711

The Night Battles

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Historian Joan Severance returns to the Sicily of her childhood, ostensibly to do research in archives newly opened in the remote fortress town of Valparuta. In truth, her academic career lies in ruins behind her she has been relieved of her teaching duties at Brown University after assaulting a student. Unable to approach her own long-buried history of loss and displacement, Joan has become obsessed with the lost possessions of those long dead all the objects, furniture, clothing and tools she finds recorded in Renaissance probates. But Valparuta, Joan discovers, is haunted, too. Unseen hands vandalize its homes and streets; the archivist, Cosimo Chiesa, suffers invisible blows. As Joan's disturbed, hyper-intuitive mind falls increasingly under Valparuta's spell, the embattled Chiesa begins a subtle campaign of seduction and tutelage whose purpose at once shocking and inevitable will force Joan to confront her unacknowledged past. A spellbinding, fiercely original novel of love, intrigue and psychological suspense, The Night Battles maps landscapes real and imagined where dream and belief, memory and longing, desire and obsession converge.

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About the Author:

M.F. BLOXAM has lived in Sicily and on both U.S. coasts, and currently lives on New Hampshire's brief coastline. She is the author of prize-winning short fiction and creative nonfiction. A background in anthropology and museum work informs her writing. This is her first novel.

Review:

M.F. Bloxam's debut novel, The Night Battles (Permanent Press 2008), uses a nuanced blend of history, legend, and mythology to explore the ways in which the past will always haunt the present. On the run from wreckage of a career in academia, the novel's protagonist, Joan Severance, escapes to Valparuta, Sicily, where she expects to put her skills as a historian to good use. The town's archives are a treasure-trove of minutia from the lives of the long-dead, and while the records she uncovers reveal much about the lives of those who have gone before her, it's the peculiar absences of information that lead to the biggest mysteries surrounding Valparuta. As her investigation deepens, Severance learns that the town has been the scene of an ongoing battle between the forces of good and evil for countless generations --and that this battle has taken place not on the physical plane, but on an astral one.
One thing that makes this novel stand out is is that while its heroine is a historian, she neither falls into the Dan Brown "Da Vinci Code" mold of adventurer-historian, nor is she a female Indiana Jones. That is , Bloxam doesn't attempt to wow her readers with vaguely scandalous information about the true identity of the Mona Lisa, and she's not especially interested in giving the world yet another action hero. Rather, Severance is more in line with James Axton, the protagonist of Don Delillo's "The Names" who, like Severance, discovers hidden, haunting meaning in the forces of history and ruminates upon that meaning in intelligent and thought-provoking ways. Emotionally stunted in many respects, Severance is not just on a quest to discover the truth about Valparuta; she's on a quest to discover her own humanity.
None of this, of course, is to say that the novel is purely a character study. Indeed, The Night Battles takes many unexpected twists and turns, and what drives it forward is both the sense of mystery that Bloxam has given to the town of Valparuta and the silent longing for some kind of emotional depth that she has given her protagonist. In short, The Night Battles is a work of beauty, a curious cross between Umberto Ecco and Neil Gaiman--mysterious, moody, and highly engaging. --Marc Schuster, Small Press Reviews

...The Night Battles is a haunting book, an unusual literary accomplishment and a sobering, perhaps disturbing, reminder that in many parts of the 21st century-world people live by standards, mores and values that have nothing to do with our own. --The Independent

Failed academic Joan Severance flees to Sicily to visit the extraordinary archives newly opened in the remote town of Valparuta. It is the country of her mother, a famous crime-scene photographer who was murdered by the Mafia. Joan is totally taken with chief archivist Cosimo Chiesa, a mysterious figure who appears to have a drug problem. Carrying emotional problems of her own, Joan finds a real kinship with Cosimo, who shares her passion for research and for old books, and the two become lovers. She slowly discovers that all of the men in the town, Cosimo chief among them, belong to the benandanti, a cult of spirits charged with protecting the harvest. He enters into night battles that leave him bruised, bloody, and exhausted. Then Joan learns that she herself seems to have a similar calling. Bloxam, in a highly original debut novel, slowly and skillfully deploys a violent alternate reality. And she renders the eerie happenings in such careful and elegant prose that the novel s style becomes as much of an enticement as its substance. --Booklist

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