Bryan Smith's fourth work follows several plotlines, all revolving around the survivors of his first novel (2004’s House of Blood, a fun, splatterific b-movie for the mind), including Dream Weaver (a former mostly good gal who is turning a new, dark page as she discovers the depths of some nifty black magic mojo in her DNA; she is also haunted by the not-ghost of Alicia, a friend who died in the previous volume), Chad Robbins (the hubby Dream abandoned, now dating a sexpot named Allyson), and Ms. Wickman (servant of The Master of the original House of Blood, she is seeking to recreate his kingdom of suffering). Others bop in and out, of course. And there are plenty of victims to the bloodthirsty Wickman and her many fold minions. Unfortunately, a lot of the characters fall victim to the “absolute power” conundrum, going waaaaay overboard into the realms of sadism, torture and messy murder…
I suppose this has to do with the mythology of the work. At its heart wait the Death Gods, otherworldly beings who require sacrifices of human suffering and innocent blood. Well, the House of Blood (reconstituted here, as the previous incarnation received a rather impressive destruction in the eponymous book, if memory serves me correctly) acts as something of a sacrificial altar to these beings. Magic makes the place into a Baba Yaga’s hut of sorts (much larger inside than out), and all who pass its boundaries pay homage either as the worshipful or as victims (or sometimes victimized worshipful). Check your civilization at the porch, through these doors lie barbarism and savagery.
At its best, it’s all very Howardian. In many ways, this grim story is the modern day follow through of many of the themes and motifs found in the Hyboria or Atlantis that Conan and Kull wandered, complete with a plethora of blood drenched femme fatales offering oblations to blasphemous, cruel gods…
Now, I am a big fan of Howard’s works (sword and sorcery, weird fiction, action stories, boxing, even his rather lackluster hard boiled mystery stuff), and one of the things I adore about them is the author's palate of brilliant colors. The blacks are impenetrable but countermanded by brilliant blues and seeping scarlets and… There are wide ranging vistas of color on display, in even his less than best stuff.
Here, the palate is more limited. Oh, the reds are bright enough (and plentiful, glory knows). The blacks are deep. And yet, there is little else on this canvas...
Gory violence set to a punk rock tempo can be fun, but without a realized world to play it against (and here we need two worlds, the Real World outside and the Weird World inside the Baba Yaga hut/House of Blood Redux), the work seems, well, a little cartoonish. Sure, it’s of the Ralph Bakshi, adult swim on crack variety of animation (the sex is hardcore, and the violence is worse, and sometimes these occur simultaneously), but that’s not enough to sustain a novel length work in my something far less than humble opinion.
However, even a lackluster plot can be fixed with either a) characters you love to love and love to hate, or b) so much style that an audience member cannot help but be overwhelmed by the technique.
Of course this model is not actually a fiction based one, but a film based one. However, it fits this novel, which has a cinematic approach.
While there are certainly plenty of loathsome characters, there aren’t many that I found myself caring about. Then, what about style? Well, if it were a film, the visual technique might be stylish, but the language is the pared down, wham-bam-thank-you-man invisible prose. It’s Richard Laymon quality prose, for sure, but that does little to cover over the tedium. If you see one eyeball skewered on a stiletto heel in a sexualized act of torture, you’ve seen ‘em all…
I wanted to have fun with this one... To crib Mary’s finale, from Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, wherein she reflects upon her marriage: “I […] was so happy for a time.”
Finally! Finally, I’m allowing myself to read Ramsey Campbell’s Grin of the Dark! It’s only been stuck on the shelf for something akin to a year! Too many exclamation points? BAH!
As I began reading it last night, a loud and flashy thunderstorm struck Worcester... I kid you not. What more perfect weather could one ask for a dalliance in Ramsey Campbell’s disturbing world?