Wednesday, April 4, 2012

100 Books #27 - Tim Powers' HIDE ME AMONG THE GRAVES

Tim Powers is one of those writers towards a new work of whose my attitude is simply, buy immediately, consider later whether it falls into the awesome or the stupendously awesome category later. If Amazon had a permanent "buy anything new by this author the second they come out" feature, I would be a Powers subscriber without question. His work is imaginative, intricate, compelling, plausible-for-fantasy*, thrilling and completely and utterly immersive, and at least two of his books** hold places on my list of favorite books absolutely ever.

So yes, my expectations going into this book, for which I foresook all others the day it arrived and then struggled not to just down the whole 500+ pages in one go, were pretty high, but they were also pretty much met. I say pretty much because Hide Me Among the Graves is a sequel, and Powers' sequels are never quite as wondrous as the original books they follow. And the book to which it is a sequel, The Stress of Her Regard, is not among my very favorite of his books.

All that being said, though The Stress of Her Regard was still a cracking good book, a sort of secret history of the second generation of the great Romantic poets (i.e. Byron and Shelley and Keats, the glamorous ones who died young) and their relationships with a unique species of pre-Adamite golem/vampire called the Nephelim. In it, Powers took the same setting that Ken Russell popularized in the film Gothic *** and made it not only real but an inextricable part of a bigger, crazier story that he also made feel real.

For this sequel, Powers moves on to the Rosetti family, of Pre-Raphaelite painting and Goblen Market fame, to Algernon Charles Swinburne, and to the son of the English doctor who accidentally married a vampire when he had the weird notion of putting a wedding ring on a statue's finger during a drunken stag party in The Stress of Her Regard. Meaning that this sequel again showcases what Powers does best: weaving the idiosyncratically odd biographical details of Romantic/Decadent poets into a weird, supernatural tapestry of perfectly imagined aesthetic detail and seriously creepy imagery (not since The Anubis Gates' horrific beggar kingdoms has Powers made my skin crawl to this degree. Holy crap, MOUTH BOY). Powers' characters, historical and created, behave in utterly bizarre ways but their every strange move, even down to lacing borrowed shoes up with blood-soaked shoelaces, makes sense within his world.

I wouldn't want to have dived into Hide Me Among the Graves without having previously read The Stress of Her Regard, though, not so much for narrative reasons as for world-building ones.  The previous book laid down a lot of rules and science and explanations that are pretty much absent in this one. The story still probably would stand alone all right, but a lot of it would feel daffier, more baffling and yes, less consistent without the experience of the first book. Taken together, though, the two books make a very satisfying and, yes, blood-curdling whole.**** Powers has another winner.

*I would argue that Powers was writing urban fantasy long before that marketing term had ever occurred to anyone.

**Those would be The Anubis Gates and Last Call, if you're wondering.

***I saw Gothic long before I studied anything about the poets and novelists that were its cast of characters, and, first impressions being what they are, I am to this day unable not to picture Gabriel Byrne as Lord Byron,  Julian Sands as Shelley and the delightfully odious Timothy Spall as John Polidori. The last bit of mental casting is what made the reading of Hide Me Among the Graves a bit problematic, since I can only picture Polidori as creepy and unlovely and giggled a bit whenever encountering him in this book as an irresistibly lovable Nephelim.

****I hesitate in using that phrase, though, because what Powers writes isn't horror. No one is out to murder anyone with an axe (well, occasionally some of the good guys might consider it) or drink anyone dry or subject anyone to torture or eat anyone's brains or take over the world and turn it into hell. No. What makes Powers' stories creepy and scary and wonderful is that his monsters love us. They love us so much. They love us too much. And we love them back, genuinely and passionately and truly, and this makes the horror elements all the more horrifying. Hide me.

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