DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

Darker Angels
S. P. Somtow
Tor/ pp. 381/ $24/95
ISBN 0-312-85931-7

S. P. Somtow's Darker Angels is an astonishing novel combining the American Civil War, with zombies, voodoo, African myth, and magic. Examining themes of spiritual, sexual, and literal redemption and resurrection, Somtow presents stories from different points of view narratively nestled one inside the other like Matryoshka dolls. Each gives way to the next; each adds and advances the whole.

Darker Angels opens in 1865 as widow Paula Grainger goes to view the body of the assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Thinking she is alone, she vocalizes a wish that the dead could be bought back. A strange man makes his presence known, startling her as he tells her that he has seen the dead raised. He is the poet Walt Whitman. Whitman is invited to tea the next day and brings along a handsome young soldier, Zachary Brown. Zack, it turns out, had an encounter with Paula's late husband, the Rev. Aloysius Grainger, and he starts to tell his tale.

Somtow starts weaving the spell of Darker Angels by using Zachary as a witness to and participant in the atrocities of war. His voice give way to other voices as story segues into story. Darker Angels' spell is a supernatural one. Alongside the Western poet, widow, and young man, the author gives us Paula's exotic black servant, Phoebe -- perhaps a goddess, perhaps a sorceress, certainly a "darker angel" and Joseph a voodoo priest with occult knowledge who can raise the dead.

Historical characters -- George Armstrong Custer, Marie Laveau, Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Byron -- brush against fictional ones; historical events meld with the fabricated. The author's careful research and genuine care for detail -- especially language -- combine with his fine technique to produce a novel with an authentic 19th century flavor, but modern pace and proclivity. As epic and complex as Darker Angels is, Somtow never loses sight of his theme of redemption and resurrection. Ultimately it is his intimate focus on the singular and personal aspects of rebirth and salvation that give the novel it's unexpected and satisfying end. Darker Angels is a unique, intricate, magical accomplishment by a writer of extraordinary talent and vision. -- Paula Guran

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.