13 March 2012

Hide Me Among the Graves (Tim Powers)

So here I am, halfway through Tim Powers' Hide Me Among the Graves, just loving the heck out of it and its unique vampire-y mythos. I tweet something to that effect, and a friend responds, "Oh yeah, I've only read his The Stress of Her Regard. Pretty unique vampires in that one, too." Intriguing, since I'm digging my second Powers read (first being The Anubis Gates, one of the greatest time-travel narratives I've ever read, right up there with Connie Willis's Oxford novels)! I look up Stress of Her Regard, and am somewhat flabbergasted to discover that Hide Me is more or less a sequel to said novel, participating in the same mythos a human generation later. Which fact is mentioned NOWHERE on the cover, nor in online publicity. Bizarre, to say the least!

This is not to say that the sequel status of Hide Me lessens it as a story in the slightest--it stands solidly on its own, and while I'm happy there's another book out there that takes place in the same fantastic alternate history (but with fictionalized Lord Byron! I love fictionalized Byron), I don't think they'll suffer being read in reverse chronological order. Still, William Morrow could've taken the back-cover real estate used to tell us who starred in the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel sort-of based on Powers' On Stranger Tides to mention this is a follow-up to an earlier book, yes?

Hide Me begins in 1845, when 15-year-old Christina Rossetti (yes, that one--poet, sister of eventual pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel) is given a small black stone statue by her father, an artifact he views as both a blessing and a curse--and not quite not alive. She begins to suspect that it somehow holds the soul of her uncle, John Polidori, who was Byron's physician, and whose contribution to the ghost-story composition that produced Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was the novella The Vampyre, which introduced the handsome, brooding archetype of the monster we now take for granted. And that Polidori, who supposedly committed suicide in 1821, has lent his physical appearance to an immortal and malevolent creature, who craves not only human blood but human devotion, and who lends the gift of poetry to its acolytes. Christina feeds the statue and becomes possessed by this being, too late panicking at what she's done and attempting to destroy it with a half-pagan, half-Christian ritual.

Which, unsurprisingly, has less than perfect results--seventeen years later, we pick up the tale of Adelaide McKee, former prostitute and seller of songbirds, and veterinarian John Crawford. Their history is tied up with each other (Crawford is shocked to learn McKee bore him a daughter from a single encounter years previously) and with the creature who haunts the Rossetti family, whom the two seek out in an effort to stop an apocalyptic team-up between the spirit that wears Polidori's face and a female counterpart still more dangerous.

While the baddies here have plenty in common with everyday vampires--drinking blood, being repelled by garlic--they're much more complicated; Powers brings in elements of succubi, Greek lamia, the pre-Adamite giants known as the Nephilim, and several powerful touches of his own, creating a seductive adversary of truly terrifying power, in a shadow London where ghosts hover on the surface of the river Thames. He writes action scenes every bit as well as he weaves in historical figures, and he's as adept with the emotional as he is with the supernatural. And after reading only two of his novels, he's carved out a niche as one of my fave speculative fiction writers.

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