When Vianne Roche blows into Lansquenet-Sous-Tannes, a sleepy French town, on the tail of carnival she brings with her a touch of witchcraft and huge gobs of humanity. Bringing with her a daughter, Anouk, and her imaginary pet rabbit, and a wealth of knowledge not only of how to make the finest confections, but how to see into people’s souls, she is destined to stir things up. The darkness to her light is the local priest, Francis Reynaud, who makes it his business to try to rid the town of this impure non-believer, and spoil her planned chocolate festival. Vianne’s humanity proves decisive for many in the town, Josephine, who finds the strength to leave her abusive spouse. Gaillume eventually learns to let his sick dog Charley move on. Vianne befriends Amande, an elder practitioner of Vianne’s arts, who welcomes the travelers when they arrive and are rejected by the bigots of the town. She is less successful with the dark Muscat, wife beater and perpetrator of even darker crimes.
Most chapters tell Vianne’s story, but some are told through the eyes of Reynaud, as he speaks of his fear, desires and crimes to his comatose predecessor.
This is a clear battle between the warmth of a secular or at least non-Christian humanity against the cold disapproval of the church. Harris has made her demons quite dark, but allows a glimmer of humanity to peep through. We have a sense, at least, of why they may have fallen so far from the path of truth. Vianne is sometimes a bit too quick to judge, and if she does indeed become aware of that the fact that the author allows her a flaw or two adds to her humanity.
The book was engaging, magical, both literally in its subject matter and in the beauty of its telling.