“The old gods may be great, but they are neither kind nor merciful. They are fickle, unsteady as moonlight on water, or shadows in a storm. If you insist on calling them, take heed: be careful what you ask for, be willing to pay the price. And no matter how desperate or dire, never pray to the gods that answer after dark.”
Adeline (Addie) LaRue is a young woman living in a small town in early 18th century France whose life has not gone as planned. Time has slipped through her fingers, and now, at 23 years old, her parents declare that she be married off immediately in order to secure her future.
Addie loathes this plan, but no one seems to care what Addie wants. On the afternoon of what was supposed to be her wedding day to a man she does not care for, she has become desperate. Despite the warnings of her wise neighbor Estele, who has always told her “Never pray to the gods that answer after dark”, Addie prays and prays, and is still praying as the sun goes down.
This begins her story. A powerful yet undefined entity of darkness (Luc) appears to answer her prayers. She tells him she wants more time to be young, and she wants her life to be her own. Addie has agreed to hand over her soul in exchange for these wishes. Unfortunately for Addie, when making a deal with Luc, wording means everything, and intent is easily (and intentionally) misconstrued.
Addie’s life is now her own. All her own. No one remembers her, and no one CAN remember her. She meets someone and they forget all about her moments after she is out of sight. It doesn’t matter how many times she meets a person. It doesn’t matter how long she knew them before she made the deal. She is always forgotten.
Addie is immortal, however, and does not age, or change in any way. The particular rules of her (as she calls it) curse are fascinating to watch unfold, and specifically designed to ensure Addie doesn’t leave a trace of her existence. Over the next several centuries, Addie makes a pocket of space for herself, and finds a way to not only survive, but finds ways to truly live in the shadows of existence.
One day, in 2014, nearly 300 years after the deal has been struck, Addie returns to a bookshop to resell a book she’d stolen a few days prior. The very last thing she expects occurs. The bookseller remembers her! Why? What’s gone wrong (or right?) with the curse? Who is this man who can hold her in his memory?
The concept of immortality and wishes gone awry have been written in fiction many times before, but the execution of the plot and characterization is what gripped me throughout all 442 pages.
This book is one of the best that I have read in a long time. Schwab’s lyrical prose explores the intense heartache of being repeatedly forgotten, watching those around you age and die while you stay the same, the extremes of hope and despair, and also explores philosophical elements of what it actually means to exist.