Monday, September 07, 2009

Burying the Shadow – review

Author: Storm Constantine

First Published: 1992

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Rayojini lives an idyllic life amongst the soulscapers of Taparak until she reaches the age at which she will be initiated into their ranks. Her initiation rite, though it follows the traditional pattern of thousands of others, is different in one vital respect. The guardian-pursuers that are invoked to watch over Rayojini’s progress are real.

In far off Sacramante, the artisans who are patronised by the upper echelons of Bochanegran society, live in isolated atelier courts. The public may watch performances at chosen times, but only the patron families have constant access to the astounding creations of the eloim artists. The eloim themselves are more than content to remain a race apart, for so they are, and if the majority were to know of their true nature, their lives would be forfeit. After eons of contented cohabitation, a phenomena known as the Fear is beginning to infect the eloim, who have previously considered themselves free from the petty psychological problems of humanity. They have been virtually immortal – thanks to the protection of their patrons, who exchange their life’s blood for culture – and now the artisans are beginning to die in despair.

Gimel and Beth Metatronim, an actress and a painter, set off to find a Tappish soulscaper, who will be proficient enough to enter the racial soulscape of the eloim, track down the cause of the Fear and eradicate it. The soulscaper of choice, Rayojini, is puzzled that her guardian-pursuers should be so much more real than those of other soulscapers. Then, as she delves deeper into the cause of the terrible ‘non-death’, a mysterious affliction akin to the fear, their attentions seem unavoidable.

The Review: This novel by Storm Constantine has just entered into its third printing and it is a difficult one to say too much about without spoiling the novel too much. It is a fantasy novel, set on an alternate vision of the earth (approximately during the Renaissance) so different as to render it almost unrecognisable. It broke the mould of fantasy novels, at the time of its original publication, in many ways. It had a lead human character, Rayojini, who is black, who is female and who is – for the lion share of the novel – middle aged, though the novel does follow her from the age of eight. Rayojini is a kind of shamanic Jungian psychotherapist – using herbs to telepathically connect with those she heals and then manipulating the symbolism within their subconscious to heal their fractured minds. She is a marvelous character, independent and strong yet with a vulnerable side that developes through the prose.

The novel is a vampire novel but these vampires are very different, best described as a fallen angel or, perhaps, almost a nephilim. They are artists, as mentioned in the blurb, and they live on ichor (read human blood) given willingly by the patron families. In this way Constantine created a form of vampire that was much less the parasite and more a symbiotic being - though one whose nature was only known to an elite. The actual lore we discover is rich but to offer more details, as I would normally, would spoil the book.

The novel is richly gothic in style, absolutely beautifully drawn but herein lies the rub. For some it may be too rich but I fell into the seductive velvet prose willingly and was rewarded with a fascinating and very alternate look at the genre. This comes recommended, 8.5 out of 10.

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