Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Stress of her Regard – review

Author: Tim Power

First Published: 1989

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Lake Geneva, 1816

As Byron and Shelley row on the peaceful waters of Lake Geneva, a sudden squall threatens to capsize them. But this is no natural event - something has risen from the lake itself to attack them.

Kent, 1816

Michael Crawford's wife is brutally murdered on their wedding night as he sleeps peacefully beside her - and a vengeful ghost claims Crawford as her own husband.

Crawford's quest to escape his supernatural bride takes him to the edges of Europe: a journey shared by other victims of the ghost’s embrace. The greatest poets of the day – Byron, Keats, and Shelley – embark with Crawford on a desperate Grand Tour through Europe, seeking to outrun the demonic presence who takes her pleasure in their ravaged bodies and imperilled souls.

Telling a secret history of passion and terror, Tim Powers recasts the tragic lives of the Romantics in a gripping and Gothic feat of imagination.

The review: Regular readers will recall that I have already reviewed Tim Powers’ novel Hide me Amongst the Graves. Set amongst the Pre-Raphaelites it was a stunning novel that spun an interesting and unusual take on vampirism – where the vampires were the Nephilim. I explained in that review that it was actually the sequel to this book. The main points of connection between the volumes being the Nephilim themselves, that the character Michael Crawford of this book is the father of one of the primary characters of the next and, of course, that Polidori is a living person as this volume begins, whose ghost becomes the integrated mask of a Nephilim and who becomes the primary vampire of Hide me Amongst the Graves.

I was so impressed with the second book that I ordered the Stress of Her Regard as I read it and it jumped to the top of my “to read” pile. This proved to be... not a mistake so much, but had I read the books in the correct order I don’t think I’d been as quick to read the second book.

Don’t get me wrong this is a finely written book, Powers is a consummate word-smith, and should actually draw me in more as I have always had an interest in Byron, to a lesser degree Shelley and, of course, Polidori is the English prose source of vampirism in literature. Perhaps this was part of the problem – they were personalities that I have already read about in many forms, and yet I wasn’t as drawn into the story as I was by Hide me Amongst the Graves. Perhaps it was because the sequel was so well written that this volume was always in danger of struggling in comparison? I didn’t feel that Powers had rounded his mythology as well as he later did – note that another name for the Nephilim in this is Lamia, by the way, and they can take the form of winged serpents.

Part of me was disappointed that Polidori’s role was so small in many respects (of course he and Byron did part company and the book was more interested in Byron and Shelley). The fact that he would be such a major part of the subsequent novel was likely unknown or embryonic for Powers as he wrote this, but the impact that Polidori ultimately had on the vampire genre is known and the Vampyre; a tale does not feature enough for me.

Not a bad volume, by any stretch, but not as good as the sequel and, for me, a slog in places. 7 out of 10.

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