Thursday, July 31, 2008
The Stress Of Her Regard
If there is a greater living fantasy writer than Tim Powers, I’m not aware of who it is. In books like his masterpiece Last Call, he deftly mixes documented historical events with his own creations, and does it so well you are convinced the mundane, conventional explanation for events must be wrong.
The Stress Of Her Regard (title taken from a Clark Ashton Smith poem) is one such novel, set in the early days of the 19th century. An English doctor named Michael Crawford is getting married for a second time, after the tragic death of his first wife in a fire. His happiness turns to horror when an apparition appears on his wedding night and viciously slaughters his new bride. As the only suspect in the murder, Crawford is forced to flee, and a turn of events causes him to fall in with the Romantic Poets, Byron, Shelley and Keats. It turns out they are similarly afflicted, and explain to Crawford he has attracted the attention of a lamia, a vampire-like spirit descended from Lilith, which will protect him but bring disaster to those he loves.
Aided by the poets, and other historical figures such as Mary Shelley, Dr. Polidori and Francois Villon, Crawford journeys to the Swiss Alps, where all involved struggle to end the curse of the lamia. And the struggle brings high cost indeed.
As usual, Powers is able to weave alternate explanations of historical events into the store to create an astounding level of verisimilitude. (The book’s explanation for John Keat’s strange epitaph particularly sticks in my mind.) To read Powers is to become immersed in an alternate that seems more real than our own. By the time you are at the end of the book, you will be almost convinced these mythological creatures actually exist. I recommend this book to any reader, whether this sort of thing is to your normal taste or not.
The Stress Of Her Regard was originally published in 1989, and was an immediate critical success, winning the World Fantasy Award and numerous others. Due to the vagaries of the publishing industry, it has been out of print since 1994. It is scheduled to be reprinted in an affordable trade paperback ($14.95) by Tachyon Publications. It is now available for preorder, and orders may be placed through the Tachyon Publications website. The book features gorgeous cover art by Ann Monn.