With Malefica, The Way of the Book, Herve Gagnon signs his new historical saga, between thriller and esotericism. Taking up the codes that made the success of its previous medieval saga, Damned, this time we dive into the France of the Ancien Régime and more particularly in its countryside plagued by popular revolts and religious unrest. This first opus thus leads the reader both in the violent and cruel universe of the Inquisition as well as in the traces of a thousand-year-old secret forgotten by all and triggering a merciless manhunt.
Between revenge and resilience
First half of the 17th centurye century, while the crown of France always lacking more money oppresses the people of taxes, the inquisition gives body and soul in the witch hunt. It is in this troubled context that Anneline Dujardin, her daughter and her mother, all healers and midwives from generation to generation, live quietly in their small village. The arrival of a new priest does not take long to turn their lives upside down, the latter seeing in them only dangerous witches to be eradicated. At the same time, François Morin, a former soldier turned gunsmith, sees his peaceful world crumble with the savage murder of his wife and baby by a gabeleur and his men. Become a bloodthirsty outlaw, only revenge guides his steps. The meeting of François and Anneline will make them discover a thousand-year-old secret to which the Inquisition seems to attach a primordial importance.
With this first volume, Hervé Gagnon is part of the perfect lineage of his previous saga Damned : a fluid and visual literary style; a dark and violent atmosphere; intrigues and twists and turns mixing power and religion. It is therefore with real pleasure that we find the pen of this author who also retains some pitfalls that already had Damned, namely a Manichaeism that is often far too strong to which is added a scenario that is sometimes predictable and here somewhat lacking in scope. And this is certainly the only weak point of this first opus. In contrast to Damned which made us travel from a small stronghold in the north of France in the middle of the medieval crusade in the heart of the Cathar country, this book - apart from its end - is limited to situating its action in miserable hamlets and their surrounding forests.
However, the magic always operates with such efficiency: from the first pages started, it becomes very difficult to stop. And let us not forget to point out the good rendering of the historical context, especially with regard to the witch hunts whose peak actually took place between the second half of the XVIe and the first part of the XVIIe century. The author thus wisely uses History to weave his own and we ask for more!
Francois looked straight ahead and clenched his teeth. He tried to convince himself that it would be a bad time to go, but that everything would be fine afterwards. His muscles tensed in anticipation of the first blow.
The leather of the strap was cruelly cutting the flesh of his wrists without his feeling it. A dismal shudder crept up his spine as Villefort smacked the whip on the ground, four or five paces from him. He addressed the villagers frozen in horrified silence.
- See, good people, the treatment that Gaston de Villefort, farmer of the king, reserves to those who refuse to pay the tax! May this encourage you to dig into your purses immediately!
Francois was used to pain. He had enlisted at sixteen, and in his ten years on the battlefield, he had known his fair share. He had caused more. But nothing in the world could have prepared him for the sensation of a thin leather thong, the velocity increased tenfold by a clever stroke of the wrist, which split the flesh like the sharpest of blades. Despite himself, he reared up and threw his head back, all his muscles tensed. A hoarse cry escaped him until his lungs were empty of air. Then his body suddenly relaxed and his head fell back on the edge of the well, the cold stone giving him some comfort, his long hair partially covering the sneer of pain that seemed to have etched on his face. He was panting as if he had just run a league. A burn ran through his right shoulder and went down to the middle of his back, so sharp he could feel his racing heart beat there.
Hervé Gagnon, Malefica, Tome 1, La route du livre, Éditions Hugo Roman, Paris, 2014.