As a devotee of Arthur Machen, Oliver Onions, Robert W. Chambers, Algernon Blackwood, and their ilk, I must confess to have a soft spot for horror that leans in the direction of elegant, Gothic mysticism. Obviously I have no problem with bitter, cosmic horror a la Lovecraft and Bierce, but there is something soothing and thoughtful about the sort of otherworldly, spiritual broadness that is so often only found in horror fiction dating to that window of time between the death of Charles Dickens and the rise of H. P. Lovecraft. The following book is a pleasant harkening back to this tradition, and it comes infused with elements of the Egyptological horror fiction of Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Amelia B. Edwards, Poe, and Blackwood, among others.
J. Fremont's debut novel broods heavily in the murky, mystical awe of classic horror, and is driven by a powerful, cyclonic energy that deftly pulls the two lead characters’ story lines closer and closer together, ginning up a crescendoing tension that makes each successive page turn faster and faster towards the conclusion.
As with so many of the entries in this genre (especially those of Doyle, Stoker, and Onions), the story follows two disparate characters mysteriously drawn towards one another by ageless forces and a hidden past: Lucinda, an emotionally-damaged Englishwoman, and (historical jeweler and designer) Rene Lalique, an ambitious French artist. After encountering each other in Egypt (at the height of Egyptomania during the late 19th century), the two gradually begin to suspect that their relationship is much older and ancient than the span of their present lives.
Rene, newly baffled by the puzzling prophecy of an Egyptian fortune teller, finds himself drawn to the melancholy but elegant Lucinda – whose wealthy family finance archeological digs in Egypt. After assisting in the opening of one particular tomb, however, Lucinda is immediately aware that she has been singled out by an invisible presence, and she doesn’t wait long before fleeing the burning, Egyptian desert for the hoped-for safety of foggy England.
Fate has other plans, however, and she reencounters Rene in Britain where both of them are forced to confront their respective supernatural baggage – sending them on a tortured and mesmerizing adventure that leads them closer and closer to a stunning revelation about their timeless relationship to one another.
To say much more is to cheapen the rich experience of reading this book: like the best authors of this genre (Blackwood and Onions especially), its true value lies in reading the prose and undergoing the process of watching the dots begin to gradually connect and fill in the elegantly detailed backstory.
Simultaneously romantic, eerie, mystical, trippy, and luscious, it serves as a rich and velvety dessert for those in search of a well-written novel of Gothic romance and spiritual depth. If you love riveting, ghostly romances of the “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Interview with the Vampire,” “Dark Shadows” variety, look no further.
Beautifully written, spiritually thought-provoking, emotionally-charged, and heavily researched (it is based loosely on the historical Lalique, after all), I found it to be the perfect book for me to read over a rainy, foggy week. With the world as mired in chaos and crisis as it is today, this book will offer a delicious sip of something grander than the daily grind – a refreshing glimpse into a strange cosmos of complexity, meaning, and awe. In short, it is the perfect novel to be reviewed and recommended by a website – dedicated as we are to classic, elegant horror: darkly beautiful horror with a shadowy soul – like ours. Indeed, it is lovely, haunting, and engaging.
A slow-burning, cyclonic journey into the mysteries of the human heart and the secrets of our ancient souls.