DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

Dawn Song
Michael Marano
Tor Books/400 pp./$24.95

ISBN: 0312864329

Horror's standard allegory is Good vs. Evil. Traditionally this has been, in myriad variations, a more than effective theme. More recently, modern horror, based in a culture no longer as firmly entrenched in Judeo-Christian morality and written by writers to whom these concepts are no longer as relevant, has often abandoned this trope, exploring, instead, a grey zone where black and white merge or are not even present. Enter first novelist Michael Marano with Dawn Song. At first, the novel seems to be a battle of Evil vs. Evil in a world beyond salvation. But do not be deceived, Marano has managed to forge something entirely new and primordially old -- an allegory for a new age: humanity in its bleak and despairing world must struggle with a variety of evil; God (good), although ever-present, is not known nor sensed, but redemption is possible even for the long-dead and the damned -- there is hope and there is salvation.

Hey, don't stop reading the review or ignore the book just because the reviewer hits you with the theology up front. Dawn Song is also a damned good story brimming with multi-dimensional characters, love, lust, and drama. If anything, the brim can't quite contain it all. Patience is occasionally required to keep track of characters, plots, and subplots; the verbiage tends to be excessive and occasionally florid. But you can't fault a player making his debut appearance for chewing the scenery once in awhile to strut his stuff for a tough audience. Most of the time he deserves applause.

Set in a cold, grey 1990 Boston as the Gulf War heats up, Dawn Song introduces a vast variety of characters ranging from the homeless to the economically elite, the uneducated to the scholarly -- Everyman/woman -- all struggling with life without the benefit of spiritual awareness. The story pivots around the arrival and demonic mission of a succubus. Sure, there's steamy hot succubal stuff here, but this is no simple suck-your-soul-along-with-pertinent-anatomy sex fiend. Although the traditions of the succubi legend are adhered to in some respects, this succubus is unique -- a resurrected soul brought back to life with her progenitor as a part of her. This badass demon-dad, Belial, is at war with the equally nasty Leviathan, sort of a Hell vs. Hell match that forms the underpinnings for the plot. (And the demonology is legit. Don't mess with this stuff, it's no pantywaist Necronomicon. Let a professor of Jewish or religious studies read it and you may find Dawn Song plucked from your mitts and burned for your own good with the admonition, "You don't want to mess with THIS stuff!")

But the characters, like most of us, have no idea what's going on. They vaguely feel something is amiss, or are completely oblivious to their manipulation -- except for Ed Sloane, troubled human, philosopher, theologian, teacher, and eventually, intellectual hero. Well, at least he does SOMETHING to combat the supernatural weirdness coming down. Remember, we are beyond the times where simple Latin phrases will disperse our evils and nothing in Dawn Song can be defeated with a sprinkle of holy water.

Dawn Song is a challenging book, but it draws you in with considerable power and seductive strength. Marano's wickedly macabre (and perhaps slightly demented) mind mixes the medieval world of succubi, demons, alchemy and Kabbalah with an intelligent modern perspective to achieve a richly terrifying feast for readers -- and evidently Dawn Song is just the first course. -- Paula Guran

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.