Two from Kiernan
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Caitlin R. Kiernan
Roc /352 pages/$14
Although a sequel to debut novel, Silk (1998), Murder of Angels
stands well enough on its own to attract readers unacquainted with the first.
Unlike Silk, in which Kiernan kept a suspenseful balance between
the psychological and the supernatural, Murder of Angels is overtly fantastic.
Set ten years after the earlier novel's end, Daria Parker is now a successful,
if not happy, alcoholic musician. Her lover, Niki Ky, has not fared well at all. She's what a
gothic novelist would call "mad," but today we term "schizophrenic." She's still as trapped
as any madwoman in any gothic mansion's tower, though, confined by both medication and
her mental state, and watched by a hired caregiver, Marvin. (One of Kiernan's most mundane
-- and level-headed -- characters to date, but one of her best.) Niki is beset by dreams and
visions in which her ex-lover, Spyder Baxter, who Daria and Niki found hanged at the end of Silk,
speaks to her from beyond the grave. Spyder convinces Niki she is needed in a strange cosmic
war in which Spyder plays a role. Niki's journey to destiny begins with a leap from San Francisco's
Bay Bridge. Dead in "our/her" world, Niki enters a strange sinister otherworld in which she
is "the Hierophant," a keeper of sacred mysteries. It is a role Spyder, now known as "the Weaver,"
wants her to fulfill in order to combat an entity known as "the Dragon."
Daria, also haunted by voices and visions along with her guilt and grief, is left in
our world seeking a magic philtre -- actually a ball bearing -- Niki needs in the other world.
Meanwhile, there's a truly weird trio on their way back to Birmingham where,
in Spyder's house on Cullom Street, this really all began: Archer Day, a woman who worships
forgotten gods; Walter Ayers, a dead man who knows something about the end of the world; and Theda,
a little goth chick who should never have called on powers beyond her understanding,
but since she did, kinda gets off on her rilly like freaky new role.
If this is sounding a little
like an RPG to you, that's not exactly wrong, but it's also far from right. Kiernan is devising
something of an anti-fantasy -- or perhaps a mythic anti-heroic journey -- with MoA. We're
reminded early on: "When our myths fail us...or when we are never given myths to start with... we're
forced to invent them.... It can be very dangerous creating myths." Scarborough Pentecost
(a character first encountered in Low Red Moon) tells Niki late in the game, "This thing
is complicated. We aren't playing Dungeons and Dragons here. This isn't hobbits versus
Sauron. If there's good and evil, black and white, it's just as hard to see here as it is back home."
Second novel Threshold remains Kiernan's multi-layered masterwork to date, but Murder of Angels
adds a heretofore missing cosmology and further depth to the now rapidly expanding Kiernanian
universe while displaying pronounced authorial confidence. Murder of Angels crowns
Caitlin Kiernan as the undisputed Queen of the Weird.
The Dry Salvages
By Caitlin Kiernan
Subterranean Press/130 pages/$25
And now for something completely different -- well, maybe not COMPLETELY different.
The Dry Salvages is science fictional rather than fantastic, but it is still stygian.
Set a couple of centuries hence, this novella plays on the "first contact"
theme with considerable suspenseful success. Told by a somewhat unreliable elderly
survivor of a space disaster, "extrasolar exopaleontologist" Audrey Cather, the story has
suitably speculative trappings, but the real focus is on the human beings involved.
Despite possibly the worst cover ever published by usually tasteful Subterranean Press,
it is well worth seeking out not only for its slam-bang good story telling, but also
as proof Kiernan is far from a one-note stylistic wonder.
--Both originally published in Cemetery Dance #51
Copyright © 2005 Paula Guran. All Rights