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Before falling asleep last night, I finished reading Flashman and the Sea Wolf, by Robert Brightwell. This book is not a sequel to the Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser, but a separate saga done in similar vein about that Flashman's ancestor who adventured in the Napoleonic Era rather than the Victorian. Fun.
Author: Tim Powers, 1989.
Genre: Historical Fantasy Horror. Romantic Poets. Vampires. Gothic. Myth and Legend.
Other Details: Trade Paperback. 427 pages.
How long has it been since . . . 'melancholy marked you for her own'?" - Lord Byron to Michael Crawford, The Stress of Her Regard.
The novel opens in 1816 as Dr. Michael Crawford travels from London to Kent for his wedding to Miss Julia Carmody. He and his companions stop for the night and manage to get quite drunk. Crawford intervenes in a fight and concerned about the wedding ring he is carrying in his pocket places it for safe-keeping upon the finger of a life-sized sculpture of a beautiful nude woman. He wakes in the morning and goes to retrieve the ring but the statue has disappeared and the landlord claims that there was never a statue in the garden. Crawford continues on to his wedding. However, when he wakes from his wedding night he discovers Julia's hideously mutilated corpse in the bed beside him. Knowing that he will be accused of murder he flees to London and disguises himself as a medical student. There he encounters aspiring poet John Keats, who recognises his situation.
Keats explains to Crawford that by placing the ring on the statue's finger he has taken it as his true bride; that indeed this was no statue but a lamia, one of the Nephilim, creatures that take humans as lovers and feed upon their blood and life energy. He suggests that Crawford travel to Switzerland to a place in the high Alps where he can free himself from the 'stress of her regard'. Along the way Crawford uses his medical skills to save an Englishman who is having a seizure. It turns out that this man is the poet Percy Shelley, who also has an intimate connection to the Nephilim. Crawford soon finds himself in the company of Shelley, his mistress Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and their close friend, the infamous Lord Byron. To complicate matters he is being followed by Julia's twin sister, Josephine, who is determined to avenge her sister's murder. Over a number of years Crawford relationships shift though central to the story is a collective quest to free themselves and their loved ones from the attentions of these vampiritic beings of Greek mythology.
Powers adeptly weaves historical figures and events into this stylish horror fantasy, which celebrates the Romantics and the birth of Gothic horror. Given the acclaim it received on publication it is strange that this novel was out of print for nearly 15 years. Having heard so many positive things about Powers from close friends, I was a little hesitant about reading him. Yet I need not have worried as this novel certainly lived up to its reputation and I am eager to read more of his work.
When I began the novel I was a little put off by some anachronistic use of language. I wasn't sure if this was deliberate on Power's part or a shift over time in how historical fiction is presented. Still this was a passing quibble as I soon found myself caught up in this atmospheric tale. Obviously these days there are many novels featuring the Nephilim and vampires in one form or another yet this is notable for being an early example as well as for its intelligence and elegance. Powers conveys very powerfully that sense of the temptation presented by the lamia as well as the horror of the prospect of losing one's humanity.
Tim Power's page on 'The Stress of Her Regard' - contains publishing history, artwork from limited edition, cover art from various editions.