Friday, June 13, 2008

Low Red Moon

This was the first novel I read by Caitlin R. Kiernan, although I have read some of her shorter work. I picked up Low Red Moon a while back, chiefly because it is mostly set in Birmingham, where I lived for seven years, then stuck it on my shelf and avoided reading it for quite a long time. I finally picked it up and read it in a day, enjoying it so much I wanted to start over when I reached the end. Ms. Kiernan has moved from off my radar to the status of a favorite writer.

The book is about a serial killer named Narcissa Snow, who may be a werewolf, or may simply believe she is a werewolf. She believes she was mistakenly rejected as a child by a dark power that bridges our world and another one, and the only way to get membership in this society is to present the dark forces with a sacrificial child, born of someone who has thwarted them in the past. Enter our reluctant hero, Deacon Silvey, an alcoholic psychic who stopped a similar killer years before, and whose wife is now expecting. Narcissa plans to kill Silvey, and take the child as her offering. Silvey is an appealing hero because he is flawed. He struggles to stay away from the bottle, and resents his powers. He is joined in his struggle to stop Narcissa by two ”changelings” who may or may not be acting in his interest.

This is an exciting book, and one that is filled with far more interesting ideas than you would imagine from its length. It is also one of the few modern books I have read that deserve the sobriquet “Lovecraftian”. H.P. Lovecraft was one of the most important and influential writers in the horror genre, and has often been imitated, usually badly. Most authors’ idea of a Lovecraft-derived story is to write a tale sprinkled with the odd “Cthulhu!” and “N’yarlthotep!”, and a chant of “Ia, Ia”, and then have the protagonist eaten by a squid-creature on the last page. Although Low Red Moon offers mostly subtle references to Lovecraft’s work, Ms. Kiernan captures the spirit and intent perfectly. Highly recommended, and I will be seeking out her other books in the future.*

One final note, Ms. Kiernan apparently dislikes to be called a “horror writer”. I won’t argue with that for three reasons: (1) Its her work, she can call it whatever she wants, (2) She’s way smarter than I (she has published some very impressive papers in her field of vertebrate paleontology) and would destroy my weak mind in an argument, and (3) I don’t actually know her, and if you argue with someone who isn’t there, people think you’re nuts. Still I can’t resist saying this is one of the best new horror novels I’ve read.

*After reading the book, I found that Low Red Moon is a sequel to Threshold, which I also own, and I’m pissed at myself for reading them out of order.

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