After forfeiting his wife to the company of other men, Sir James Addison, a notable English poet and gentleman, begins descending into a demented melancholy that prompts him to move from his elaborate estate in Oxfordshire to the London's seedy borough of Soho. Soon after his arrival in Soho, Sir James begins yielding to the intoxicating effects of laudanum and to the whims of his madness, just as his memory begins lapsing and Jack the Ripper begins his campaign of terror.
Plagued by the persistent presence of an inordinately large raven, and hellish nightmares of his forthcoming death, Sir James and his friend, Cornelius Ingram, take leave of London and travel to North Yorkshire and to a time-trodden and once regal residence known as 'Windham House' where the raven follows and the spectre of death is waiting.
©2012 R. L. McCallum (P)2012 R. L. McCallum
critical book reader
Being mired in my chunky and long novels, I have nearly forgotten the pleasures of reading a novella, especially a novella so masterfully written. This novel was again my foray into the world of indie and self-published authors, and overall, I am happy with my choice. The accomplishments of this period piece are complemented by the narrator, Brad Wills, who creates a truly authentic performance - his voice and his inflections sound natural and poised. This voice did a lot to help me visualize the setting of this novelette.
The novella is a stylish compilation of recognizable moves in the horror genre and allusions to the very foundations of this genre. It is also a deftly written Victorian period piece with the language imitating the famous early ghost stories. The imitation goes beyond the level of wording and vocabulary, but rather successfully attempts to follow the syntax and even ideas and values of this epoch. Some fans of the splatterpunk might consider this a softie, a sub par performance, BUT I FOR ONE really enjoyed its deftly linguistic fabric of the text.
The author also masterfully used recognizable allusions (allusions to Poe, the crimes committed by Jack the Ripper, and definitely the image of the raven). Ravens conventionally are used to create the unpleasant murky feeling of something sinister but hardly tangible. This raven gains even more power and turns not only into the harbinger of disaster but also the extension of something immeasurably darker.
Allusions to Jack the Ripper are key if you want to create this dark, Gothic world of Victorian England. The ever-used mystery of the serial killer is also given a new supernatural explanation in this novella. The Gothic setting of the novel is another commendable point. The aura of an old, ramshackle, dilapidated, haunting place perfectly recreates the chilling atmosphere of theWuthering Heights.
The most important thing is that the horror, experienced by Mr. James, the protagonist, and a famous poet, could have a logical explanation of him being addicted to the laudanum with the subsequent hallucinations and gradual descent into madness. It could be explained, but who would settle for the banal explanation of hallucinations caused by this drug. It is indeed much more exciting to entertain a darker idea of the raven as the embodiment of evil, of a beautiful woman, who is THE killer and whose skin is as cold and cadaverous as of a corpse.
Dreams and nightmares in this novella are very visionary in their nature, but also very Victorianesque when they were interpreted as a certain affinity bond with the inexplicable part of our nature, our subconscious mind, and our dangerous potential to cross the line of normalcy and madness. I really enjoyed the Victorian interpretation of madness as a dangerous and a dark gift into which Mr. James tapped to create his poems with the eerie and otherworldly feeling.
Overall, a novella that deserves four stars for its stylish intertextual literary content and a really spooky and eerie atmosphere. A job very well done!
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