DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

Two from Kiernan

Murder of Angels
Caitlin R. Kiernan
Roc /352 pages/$14
(September 2004)
ISBN: 0451459962

Book CoverAlthough 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
(October 2004)

Book Cover 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

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