First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Luke Gracias and Australian eBook Publisher for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.
Luke Gracias offers readers an interesting novel that seeks to mix the foundations of religious belief–both the goodness of a god and evil of its great nemesis–with the human understanding of bartering for a particular outcome. By placing these themes within a modern setting, the reader is better capable of understanding the story and relates with ease. After an eerie preface, the novel opens in a small Spanish town, with one Sister Benedictine trying to locate The Devil’s Bible, which contains a prayer that appears to hold much importance. After copying a few pages of the prayer, in complete secret, Sister Benedictine is able to hide it away with a journal of her own within her convent before being chased by a group of monks wielding swords. Trapped in a bell tower, Sister Benedictine takes the only path she has and ends up hanging from the bell’s rope, in an apparent suicidal act. On the other side of the world, Siobhan Russo learns that her mother has died in Spain, after abandoning the family for six years. While Siobhan is curious as to what happened to Denise Russo (the actual name of Sister Benedictine) all those years ago, she is unsure what to expect. Siobhan’s sister, Jess, wants nothing to do with her mother, though Siobhan feels she owes it to the entire family to explore what might have happened. Travelling to Spain, Siobhan is granted access to a vault where her mother held some key documents she willed to her eldest daughter. Siobhan receives the journal, which her mother called The Confession, and agrees to read it in order to learn more about what happened all those years ago. This confessional journal dates back to the early- to mid-1990s, when Siobhan was a young girl. Denise Russo was a single mother who tried her best to raise a daughter she loved more than life. After a traumatic event, Denise made a deal with a truly diabolical man, who forces her to trade Siobhan’s safety with a pledge to commit numerous crimes. Feeling that she had no choice, Denise is led down a path of truly alarming proportions, but never strays from the promise she made. As Siobhan reads of these events and the eventual birth of her sister, all becomes a little clearer while also extreme muddled. An ancient sect of red-clad monks remain on the lookout for Siobhan, forcing her to remain in hiding and return to Australia with a secret that could tear her family apart. Her arrival opens new and horrific possibilities, just as Gracias keeps the reader in suspense with a major cliffhanger. A wonderfully crafted novel for those who love an evolving and dramatic narrative that takes twists as it tries the reader’s personal faith.
This being the first piece of writing I have ever encountered by Luke Gracias, I was unsure what to make of it. While the opening few chapters took a little time to grasp me, by the time the story entered ‘The Confession’ section, I was completely hooked. Gracias pulls on many time periods and uses strong characters to tell his story, layering both the narrative and character development throughout. His use of strong religious history plays perfectly into the larger story and, should it hold some degree of truth, the reader must wonder about this darker side of religious acceptance. Whereas many will turn to the god of their choosing and make promises for specific results, could the same not be done in the face of a diabolical being, the antithetical deity? Exploring the role this character played in shaping history, Gracias forces the reader to shelve their preconceived notions and potentially accept that there is an evil pulse that is steering world events alongside the goodness of some Higher Being. The powerful and plausible story is accentuated with the lengths to which a parent will go to save their child and face the consequences of their actions. Told primary to convey the life and times of Denise Russo, the addition of Siobhan and, to a lesser extent, Jess, allows Gracias to paint an extremely disturbing picture while flirting with safety for those who are not entirely ready to let go of their belief in goodness.
Kudos, Mr. Gracias for this stellar piece of work. I cannot wait to see what other ideas you have percolating for your growing fan base.