What an exceptional debut novel. I am so glad I didn’t know about the hype surrounding this novel when I started reading it, as I had absolutely no expectations.
There is a gruesome crash at the beginning of the book, and a realistic medical description of burn treatments that may be too graphic for some readers. Initially I disliked the main character and as the story progressed it showed his transformation beautifully with the help of an eccentric, artist (Marianne Engel) who starts visiting him in hospital. Upon release he moves in with her and her story unfolds.
Marianne is 700 years old, born in the year 1300 and raised in a convent. She is overjoyed when she meets the scarred narrator, as she believes that he is her long-dead lover returned to her. She then must set about convincing him of her story: of how the two fell in love all those years ago and how they were separated, about her divine mission to set her hearts free by carving huge gargoyles out of stone.
Interspersed through out the two tales of past and present Marianne also tells tales/fables of love and sacrifice. These stories seem completely unrelated but do come together towards the end.
The book shows impressive knowledge of such diverse topics as life-threatening burns, morphine addiction, seventh-century Vikings, and Dante's Inferno and medieval scriptoriums where books were copied laboriously by hand.
It explores the darkness that can devour the human spirit, while guiding you to the light, in very unexpected ways.
I really hope that this author has more stories screaming at him to be written as much as the Gargoyles were screaming at Marianne to get them out of their stone prisons.