Coloreds. Whites. Octaroons. Quadroons. As multi-layered as it is multi-hued, Jewel Parker Rhodes has fashioned a novel steeped in myth, superstition, fact and imagination, the earliest years of the legendary Marie Laveauís extraordinary life in 19th-century New Orleans. This is fertile ground, a tale fed as much by myth and magic as the reluctant curiosity of the daughter of a voodoo queen bred to step into her mother and grandmotherís shoes as a great voodooienne.
Raised in a secluded bayou by her grandmother, Marie yearns to know her motherís history. The source of her identity, Grandmere refuses to reveal the details of the short life and violent death of her daughter. In voodoo lore, sight is passed generation to generation, mother to daughter.
But in her declining years, Grandmere is tormented by her early obeisance to voodoo, later converting to Catholicism, searching for comfort from Christ and the saints as an antidote to the past. In her determination to protect little Marie, Grandmere achieves the opposite effect.
All the while Marie is growing from childhood into a nubile young women, she is being watched. John, a powerful, seemingly ageless man marked with the African tribal scars of royalty, waits impatiently, his powers of seduction unmatched when it comes to an impressionable young girl. John cajoles, promises and tempts Marie away from her husband, Jacques, on her wedding night, drawing Marie into a passionate relationship from which she cannot escape.
Nor does she want to, mired in the seduction and confusion of an emotionally charged affair. Tormented by the love and hate so carefully tended by this ruthless man, Marie does his bidding, learning the ways of Damballah, flaunting her possession by this voodoo spirit, her followers equally entranced by Marieís charisma. But John must dominate, jealous of the womanís role he covets for himself, mercilessly exercising his power over Marie, achieving results through cruelty with only occasional tenderness.
Within the context of 19th-century New Orleans, the author creates a vivid tableau of worship and blood sacrifice, even rich white society cowed before the implied danger of slaves temporarily relieved from fear and humiliation. In this sense, Marie becomes a symbol of rebellion, an unstoppable force that leaves white society quaking from the potential threat of a downtrodden slave community.
On a more personal level, Marie must free herself from the bondage of her passion for John and find the internal strength to escape his escalating brutality. Searching for identity, Marie takes the life of another and opens her soul to the spirits she calls forth.
The helpless, lonely daughter of a voodooienne, young Marie rises like a phoenix to claim her place in a turbulent century, a fearsome voice for a following stripped of dignity and humanity by white masters, an extraordinary woman who embraces her daunting destiny.