shaken & stirred

welcome to my martini glass

12.16.2004

read a book: Murder of Angels

I've enjoyed all Caitlin Kiernan's books, but I think her latest, Murder of Angels, just became my favorite. (Although Threshold runs a close second.) A sequel of sorts to Silk, the book certainly doesn't require that you've read the earlier one, or that you've read it recently enough to remember it in depth. In fact, I experienced an interesting sense of vertigo, as details from Silk came flooding back the further in I read.

The writing is uniformly beautiful and I worried needlessly during the first couple of chapters that the ornate prose and sense of dread couldn't possibly be sustained over the entire book. Instead, the book continues to build until the last page, the writing ever more beautiful and precise. Kiernan is the only writer I'm familiar with whose books are able to pull off the trick of being as scary as any horror movie (I never want to get up and go to the bathroom at night or walk through the house in the dark while I'm reading one) but still having a real intellectual and emotional heft to them. Unlike most horror movies, the frights of a book like Murder of Angels are human and because of that deeply resonant.

But let's talk about what makes this book different from her earlier books. The second half is a fantasy. And it's one of the most jaw-dropping, successful renderings of a fantasy world I've read in ages. The problem with much fantasy, to me, is that the things that are meant to be frightening, whatever the big dark evil is, often can't be truly frightening to us. The threat never seems real. This is partly because the good and true characters are -- in most books -- not going to die, good is going to be victorious, and we know this because we've learned it from a thousand narratives. Murder of Angels escapes this trap. These characters are complex, and while they may be good (whatever that is), it's in no way a guarantee of safety or survival. The worlds in the book themselves aren't safe from destruction. And so this is that rare thing: a successful dark fantasy. One that will scare you, stay with you, and introduce you to marvels.



See also:
Bookslut interview with Kiernan
Kiernan's LiveJournal

2 Comments:

  • At 10:03 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I was also impressed with this one. Got it for free at WFC, started it on the plane, not expecting much, was entirely engrossed before long. Is this dark fantasy? It felt like almost like horror to me, which I generally don't read, but the beauty of the prose trumped my squick factor. Very satisfying.

    - Mary Anne

     
  • At 11:31 AM , Blogger gwenda said...

    It's definitely marketed as horror... but I really think this one falls more into the dark fantasy category for me. And I'm afraid that some people who really like reading dark fantasy and would love this book, might be turned off by the horror label.

     

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