Despite there being few absolutes in this world, the human brain finds comfort in its ability to classify something as good or evil, right or wrong. The unfamiliar or mysterious makes humans uneasy and fearful. Shelby Mahurin explores this truth in her recent book Serpent and Dove, a story that takes place in a world of shadows, rituals, and magic.
The characters that populate this setting in seventeenth-century France include Coco Monvoisin, a Dames Rouges—a red witch whose blood is a powerful ingredient in most enchantments. Wild, unpredictable, and sometimes dangerous, their magic is not bound by any laws or rules, unlike that of the Dames Blanches.
Another character, Louise Margaux Larue is Coco’s best friend and a Dames Blanches, whose magic demands balance. But Lou has left the world of witchcraft behind, trading it for the life of a cunning, charming, and ruthless thief. Even though she is known for being vulgar, dishonest, and manipulative, Lou is also compassionate, free-spirited, and brave.
Because these witches are considered unnatural and unholy, the Church has vowed to protect the people from them. Sworn to the Church as huntsmen, the Chasseurs hunt down members of the occult and burn them at the stake. In an ancient feud, the royal family and the kingdom of Belterra battled the Dames Blanches, the deadly witches who continue to haunt the king and his descendants as the witches attempt to reclaim land they once called their own.
Captain of the Chasseurs, Reid Diggory was orphaned as a child and taken in by the Archbishop. With a vow of loyalty and armed with Balisardas, Reid defends his benefactor and performs his role as a protector. The Chasseurs’ Balisardas have been forged with a molten drop of Saint Constantin’s original holy relic, rendering them immune to witches’ magic. Combatting the witches, Reid has seen black magic and desecrations of the human body that have led him to believe that witches are not human but vipers, demons incarnate. To Reid, witches are not a child’s fantasy; they do not dance like fairy creatures under the full moon but commit malevolent acts for which they deserve the stake.
After a particularly tricky heist, in which Lou steals a ring believed to render its user immune to magic, she finds herself pursued by the Chasseurs. While battling Reid and seeking an escape route, Lou tricks Reid into a public scandal, leading a theater crowd into believing she has been raped by a Chasseur. The unintended consequences of her plan involve the Archbishop, who makes a deal with the constabulary: Lou and Reid must take the vow of holy matrimony. After all, a husband is to be honored and obeyed, according to the Bible, and a wife is subject to a husband’s discipline. To avoid both a public lashing and imprisonment, as well as to guarantee her own protection, Lou agrees to marry Reid, thinking she can use Angelica’s Ring to later escape the bonds of holy matrimony. Their union sets in motion a series of adventures, conflicts, and surprises—surprises about their parentage and about the content of their hearts and souls.
Lou’s body guard, sixteen-year-old Ansel, a Chasseur in training, sees both sides and leads Lou to realize that beliefs cannot be easily changed, that some things cannot be changed with words, “Some things have to be seen. They have to be felt” (251). Ansel comes to believe that both Reid and Lou are good people who need to find a way forward together. Lou, on the other hand, wonders how a witch and a witch hunter can find a way forward when her husband would have her burned at the stake if he knew her true identity. How can she trust or love such a man who at his core believes witches are evil?
As Reid and Lou battle one another’s ideological differences, Mahurin’s novel examines the social construct of humanity. It also interprets the nuances of good versus evil and explores the passion of war, love, friendship, and death while asking the important question: What are you willing to sacrifice to save others or to protect your beliefs? Reminiscent of several other historical and social conflicts where each side is capable of greed and bent on revenge, Mahurin’s drama suggests that “we cannot change the past, but we can move forward and heal—together. We can share this land” (430) if our judgment is not clouded by hate and intolerance.
- Posted by Donna