Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Review: Dark Ladies

I've been reading horror books as far back as I can remember, starting with fairy tales, Greek myths and Halloween books (I was born too young for Goosebumps, and I was too male for Christopher Pike books) and eventually moving into the mainstream with Stephen King, Dean Koontz and even a quick run through Anne Rice. A few years back I came across a book called Horror: The 100 Best books, edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, and was finally able to begin a look at some really cool classic horror. I have now read a lot of horror from the 1800s - and I'll probably post on the value of reading it in a few weeks, but one of my favourite finds in the book was a novel called "Conjure Wife"(1943) by Fritz Leiber.

It is very difficult to pick a favourite book by Fritz Leiber (pictured right). I love this guy's writing, he goes from classic Fantasy (his Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series were one of the main influences on Dungeons and Dragons) to award-winning Science Fiction (he won two Hugo awards for best Novel - The Big Time in 1958 and The Wanderer in 1965), but the books I'll be looking at today were in the horror genre.

Yup - I said books. I cheated a little, I'm using the book Dark Ladies, a collection of two of his horror books, Conjure Wife and Our Lady of Darkness (1977). When I went looking for a copy of Conjure wife, all I could find was this two-in-one edition, but the other book - Our Lady of Darkness, was both extremely Lovecraft influenced and looked a lot like one of my favourite RPGs of the 1990s, Kult (Sorry Vampire: The Masquerade, but I like the REALLY dark stuff).

Anyway, back to the reasons you should read these two books - The plots are simply awesome:

Conjure wife focuses on a college professor who comes across witchy stuff his wife is keeping, which she says she has been using for years to help his career, and in fact she says that most college professor's wives do the same thing. Being a bit of jerk, he demands that all of it be removed from the house as it is all just superstitious mumbo-jumbo. Unfortunately, at this college it isn't, and when this up-and-coming professor loses his magical protection, things get very bad VERY fast.

Our Lady of Darkness (which won the World Fantasy Award for best novel in 1978) is a little trickier as a read. If you are looking to start reading Leiber, I would only suggest this one if you are really into H.P. Lovecraft, as this book takes the ideas from his Cthulhu Mythos and updates them to 20th Century San Francisco. The book focuses on a writer who becomes aware of a cult and begins to see just how massive it's control of the city is. I really liked the book, but I am definitely a big Lovecraft fan so I have a lot of bias.

Both books are worth a read, but if Horror is not your thing, check out his Fantasy or SF, they are all older, so should be available at your local library and are some of the coolest fiction I have had the luck to come across in the last few years.

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