Award Winning Fantasy with a Twist!
Traditionally in the spooky month, we turn to noted horror authors like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Anne Rice, or Clive Barker and they’re all brilliant, no question. But another stands out for his mastery of 2 very different styles of supernatural.
Tim Powers, sometimes called the father of Steampunk, is noted for richly detailed “secret histories.” His stories build around some little-known historical fact, intertwined with mythology and folklore to present an alternate version of a well-known event that doesn’t deviate from reality, but adds another beautifully ornate aspect to the telling. The Stress of Her Regard, published in 1989, tells of Byron and Shelly’s summer idyll in Italy in 1816, then layers in references to succubi and vampires as both the inspiration and doom of these famous poets. It’s an epic battle of good and evil, art and creativity, and the cost of inspiration. The man obliviously knows his British literature and history!
The sequel, Hide Me Among the Graves, is that rare literary addendum – even better than the original. In it, Powers builds on the mythology of Byron’s heart, removed in death but apparently not lost and now luring succubi to London in search of the children of the lone survivors of that traumatic summer. Filled with epic chases pursued by terrifying evil, dark journeys through underground lairs, and the creepy sensations from encounters with the dead and dying and creatures who lie somewhere in between, both stories have that lovely gothic chill that distinguishes classic horror like Frankenstein or Rebecca.
Power has a completely different tone in his newest Vickery and Castine series. In Alternate Routes, a former Secret Service agent is on the run after he inadvertently discovers that some Los Angeles freeways lead to the land of the dead. This series reads like a modern thriller rather than a Gothic novel and at first, that’s jarring. Even Power’s other books that have contemporary settings, such as his Fault Line Books – Last Call and Expiration Date, have that eerie mystic feel to them. Powers still delivers the rich mythology and historical references he’s know for, but in brief flashbacks and police-style interrogations rather in vivid description or visions. The contrast between the underworld in Power’s Anubis Gates, with descriptions of a great river leading to towering gates dominated by shadows of jackals, and this book’s blunter depiction of a barren desert of windswept sand is striking.
The characters are compelling. They grow through the series and respond to their circumstances. Sebastian Vickery is suspicious and cynical due to his initial betrayal, but comes to accept the otherworldly along with his circumstances. Ingrid Castine tries to do the right thing, unsure if she’s dodging an engagement to being so traumatized she cringes at the touch of a friend. At the end of Stolen Skies, their story is left open. All of their personal challenges aren’t resolved, even if the alien encounter have slowed. You want another installment in their story just to know what happens to them.
Writing in different genres is challenging. To write in two styles in the same genre is highly impressive and in Power’s case, guaranteed entertainment. Highly recommended in this season or any other!