Sunday, July 6, 2008

A dark tale of otherworldly horror

I've long been curious to check out the books that Charles de Lint wrote back in the 80s and 90s under the pen name "Samuel M. Key." He mentions them in some of his books, and the reason why he wrote them under a different name: normally he writes fantasy, usually urban fantasy, but these books are definitely horror, very dark and, judging from Angel of Darkness, very violent. I have enjoyed many of de Lint's books, so when this reissue was purchased by my library, I was happy to finally be able to read it.

The novel opens with a man, clearly deranged, who has made it his hobby to torture people in order to record their voices. It seems he has a plan to make a sort of music from the sounds of pain and desperation, and his current victim, a teenage runaway he'd lured to his recording studio under false pretenses, will be the culmination of his demented endeavor. The music that results calls forth a vengeful presence that is terrifying to behold.

Ex-cop JackKeller, searching for the runaway teen, arrives at the scene and immediately senses something horrific - something so horrible that he doesn't even go into the house. Instead, he calls for the police. The officers on the scene experience very disorienting visions at the gut-wrenching sight in the recording studio, visions that continue even after they leave. There are visions of a wasteland, a rotting, distorted version of their city, and when they fall asleep, they are transported there in their dreams - but is it just a dream? As more and more unexplainable things happen, Jack, his former coworkers and his friends come to the conclusion that just because something cannot be explained does not mean it isn't real. Unfortunately this isn't exactly the sort of foe the police academy prepares its students to face...

First off, let me say that this book is definitely not for the squeamish. De Lint pulls no punches. If I'd read the first few pages of this book, and it had been by an unfamiliar author, I may not have been as determined to continue with it. But I trust de Lint, and soon his characters took over (there were several, some less sympathetic than others, whose stories were told in alternating point-of-view sections), and I was quite happy (if a bit disturbed at times) to go along with the ride. It is a gripping tale, with many of his common themes (the horrors of child abuse and spouse abuse, the psychology of the victims, the possibility of redemption, the strength of compassion) presented in a harder-hitting, darker way than the Newford books. The description of the desolate city was very effective, creepy and palpable, and the entire premise was unusual and intriguing. I definitely plan to check out the other Samuel Key books. While I do prefer the world of Newford, it is fascinating to take a peek at the darker side of de Lint's imagination.

Angel of Darkness by Charles de Lint" - originally published under the pen name "Samual M. Key" (Orb, 1990)

Also reviewed at:
Someone's Read it Already

12 comments:

  1. Ah, yes. As I said in my review, I'd recommend _From a Whisper to a Scream_ as a slightly gentler book, with more of the de Lint we're used to. Still horror, but not so . . . awful as that first scene.

    Glad you enjoyed it!

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  2. Thanks, Stephanie. After reading your review I was glad that I'd read this one first - the other ones should be a bit more pleasant. That first scene was pretty awful! Yikes. It's definitely not a book I imagine ever rereading. Once was enough.

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  3. I will get around to this at some point and I consider myself warned! I tagged you for a book related meme by the way.

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  4. Yay, thanks for the tag! (And the heads-up - I'm woefully behind on my blog reader after the fun holiday weekend.)

    I do think you'd enjoy this - you like dark stuff, and being forewarned will certainly help. I'll be looking forward to hearing what you think of it.

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  5. This one flew right onto my wishlist after your review! I love horror lit. And the more creepy the better. I love a book to make my skin crawl...not sure what that says about me exactly, lol. Few horror books actually invoke that in me, but this one sounds like it would. And I'd expect nothing more from Mr. DeLint and I'm sure it's more than just shock, there's always meaning behind his work too which is what makes him great!

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  6. Yes, Chris - I this one would fit the bill. I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts about it! I certainly agree with you about de Lint's work - and that's why I'm definitely going to read the other horror novels he wrote, no matter how creepy they are!

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  7. I now own one of his books but I still haven't gotten around to finding the time to read it. He certainly sounds like a good writer though!

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  8. Ladytink - I'm sure you'll enjoy it when you get to it!

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  9. Oh...I have this book in my TBR pile. I love, love, LOVE de Lint!! And I think I'm hardly squemish, so I can't wait to read it now!!

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  10. Stephanie - I'm not very squeamish either, but I did want to give a heads-up to those who are. And I'd venture to bet that the initial scene might get under your skin a bit, even so. (And you're going to kick me for that awful pun after you've read the book!)

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  11. I had this same experience with a book by Jack Vance. Vance usually writes fantasy and science fiction with a few mysteries thrown in. I heard about a title, "Bad Ronald," and since I wanted to read all things Jack Vance I checked the book out from the library. I was astonished at how dark it was. It was very hard to read and I only continued because it was Vance.

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  12. Wow, it's hard to picture Vance writing something so dark! It is interesting to see writers we think we know explore something different, though, don't you think?

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