Monday, June 22, 2015

Honourable Mention: Brood of the Witch-Queen

Brood of the Witch-Queen was a 1918 novel of supernatural adventure written by Sax Rohmer, the author better known for his creation Fu Manchu.

The story follows Dr Bruce Cairn and his son Robert as they become embroiled in the machinations of Antony Ferrara, the adopted son of Dr Cairns' colleague and friend Sir Michael Ferrara. Antony Ferrara murders his adopted father through occult means and, as the book progresses, we discover that his powers reach back to Ancient Egypt.

Though Ferrara’s goals through most of the book involve either the marriage to, or death of, Sir Michael’s ward Myra Duquesne he does deviate from this as he turns his attentions to a certain Lord Lashmore’s young wife. Of course the presence of Lord Lashmore, and thus the fact that she is not a wealthy widow yet, stands in the way of his ambition.

Lord Lashmore is directed to Dr Cairn and has scars on his neck that look to have been made by fangs. We discover that in his ancestral seat of Dhoon there is a dark secret. One of Lashmore’s ancestors, the third Baron, brought home a beautiful woman from the continent – a Polish Jewess called Mirza. There was a child from their marriage, Paul Dhoon, though he was passed off as a child of a subsequent marriage after Lord Lashmore despatched Mirza.

At the coming of age the heirs of the family were taken to a secret room in Dhoon castle to reveal the family’s dark secret. In that room was Paul Dhoon’s body, still with flesh on his bones, gleaming “wolf fangs” and an aspen stake driven through him – which was done a whole year after his death.

Cairn concludes that “Mirza… …practised sorcery in life and became, after death, a ghoul—one who sustained an unholy existence by unholy means—a vampire.” She was decapitated by her husband, which prevented her return as a physical vampire as the body was no longer a suitable vehicle but her spirit was bound to Earth. Ferrara discovered that Lady Lashmore was, unbeknown to herself, a sensitive and ensured that the spirit of Mirza could possess the woman – allowing Mirza access to the two things she desired, blood and vengeance against the family Dhoon.

Cairn realises that they have to find a cavern that houses the body of Mirza and finally release her through a wooden stake. Before they get chance to do this Lord Lashmore dies, following an attack where he struck his attacker, realised it was his wife and suffered a fatal heart attack. Whether they subsequently went to the cavern to aid Lady Lashmore is not covered in the book and the entire Lashmore sub-story is dropped and forgotten at that point.

According to the book’s Wikipedia entry, Lovecraft compared this novel to Stoker’s Dracula and Les Daniel deems it Rohmer’s best novel. For the former I doubt I would go anywhere near that far. The book proves itself to be a fair romp but somewhat unsophisticated. The vampire section was interesting but suffered for the lack of conclusion. That said, it is an interesting use of vampiric possession.

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