Book 6: The Stress of Her Regard, Tim Powers
The Stress of Her Regard earned a place on my “OMFG BEST BOOK EVAR” shelf within the first few chapters. It quickly jumped up among such greats as The Court of the Air (I swear Nikki, I will mail this to you. SOON), and The Lies of Locke Lamora. There’s just so much to it. It’s a meaty, complex tale. About vampires.
But these aren’t normal vampires; they’re much more closely aligned with what we would call succubi and incubi. A strange, stony amalgamation of the vampires that permeate our culture today and demons. It’s really fascinating.
Don’t let the presence of vampires deter you, though. They are not the main characters of the novel. They’re actually, for once, the “bad” guys; though can you really call a creature bad when it’s merely acting according to its nature and trying to survive?
The main character of this book is a gentleman by the name of Michael Crawford. He wakes up the day after his wedding to his lovely Julie to discover her mutilated corpse beside him in the bed. He has no clue what happened to her or when during the night it did happen—or how he slept through it. And obviously he’s the only suspect, so he flees. (I would be remiss if I didn’t make mention of Julia’s strange twin sister Josephine, but I can’t say much more about her without giving too much away. Suffice it to say she’s one of my favorite characters.)
First he makes his way to London, where he meets young John Keats. Yes, that John Keats. Avoiding the pursuit of the authorities, he soon makes his way to France, where he meets an old man who is likewise married into the “family”. Michael has no clue what this means at this moment or what he’s gotten himself into. He starts to dream about the Alps, though he’s never been there; he has an inexplicable yearning to see them, so he continues on from France towards Geneva in Switzerland. Once there, he soon meets Byron and Shelley (yep, them), and in a fit of recognition of another favored by the vampires, Byron takes him on as his personal physician. Sorry about your luck and your shit poetry, Polidori.
This is where things start to make sense both to Crawford and to a larger extent to the reader, and I’m certainly not going to ruin the story by explaining how it is that three of the greatest poets of the age are involved with vampires, but they are. And it’s brilliant. Powers weaves the vampires into the tales of these three men as well as working Crawford into their lives and making him incredibly important to their futures with ease. It’s fascinating reading this fantasy alternate history. For large portions of the book, I fully believed that this is how things actually happened.
And considering the Romantics, I wouldn’t be the least surprised. Though intellectually I knew that the Byron that Powers wrote isn’t necessarily the actual Byron, he certainly felt entirely right and real—mad, bad, and dangerous to know and all. I’ve always had a thing for Byron, and this book only increased that adoration.
This is a fully immersive and at times heartbreaking book. Michael Crawford basically goes through hell and back during his life. And there were a few places where I was near tears, reading about yet another thing that he has to deal with, from the death of his wife right on down to his final adventure in Venice. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys historical fantasy and wants a different take on vampires.
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