Christopher Golden, |
The Gathering Dark
Bram Stoker Award-winner Christopher Golden brings a new twist to the vampire legend in his series of books The Shadow Saga. In The Gathering Dark, set 10 years after the events of the third Shadow Saga novel, a much-changed Peter Octavian finds himself reluctantly facing the biggest challenge of his life. By this time, the whole world knows that vampires, or Shadows, exist and that Peter was once their leader. He taught them the truth of their existence, exposing all of the lies that the Catholic Church had long ago instilled in their minds. A great war was fought between the Shadows and a secret society inside the Church, leaving many vampires dead and the Church itself all but destroyed. In the process, the Gospel of Shadows was destroyed, robbing mankind of its only means for keeping previously unimaginable monsters and demons at bay.
As this novel begins, the world of man comes under attack, with city after city ostensibly sucked into a layer of hell itself. The reconstituted church in America is working feverishly to regain the knowledge contained in the lost Gospel of Shadows, but Earth's best and only hope in this new unimaginable war is Peter Octavian.
Having forsaken his vampire existence, Octavian is now a normal human being. His desire for a human life, though, has left him wanting, and he has retreated into a solitary existence. He is far from defenseless, though, as his history plus a tough thousand-year sojourn in Hell have made him the world's most powerful mage. As dire events begin to unfold, he joins with a remarkable set of individuals to save the world from total destruction at the hands of powerful demons assaulting the planet in ever-growing numbers. His two greatest allies come to be Kuromaku, a vampire brother, and Keomany, an earthwitch whose powerful bond with the natural magic of Earth itself proves invaluable. Father Jack Devlin, a priest who goes against the wishes of his bishop to aid Octavian in his quest to rid the world of demonic infection, is a singular character of great importance, while two very special human females give the Shadows reason to fight for a world that still sees vampires as abominations. The presentation and evolution of the characters is well done, filling the pages with a sense of humanity without which such a battle as that described herein is meaningless.
I have to admit that it took a while for The Gathering Dark to light a fire in my imagination. The early parts of the novel are sometimes slow of pace and shift back and forth between characters in a sometimes disconcerting manner. The form of the demonic manifestations is also fairly extreme and hard to accept. Then you have Octavian and his allies finding nebulous ways to enter the hidden realms and return with their lives intact. The magic that Octavian often calls into being is wholly unbelievable but certainly mage-worthy, while the remarkable abilities that Golden gives to his vampires pushes the envelope much farther than I would prefer to see it go. Add to this an earthwitch who can use Mother Nature herself as a force of protection as well as a potent weapon, and you have an extreme fantasy hard to embrace.
The second half of the novel recharges the batteries of Golden's fiction quite nicely, though. It no longer matters how unbelievable the situations are at this point, as you become ever more drawn into worry and care for these characters risking their lives and souls for a fight they may well not be able to win. The last hundred pages represent an extended climax of events, with Golden turning the crank of the suspense meter slowly but steadily. Emotional conflict blends with painful endurance and unparalleled bravery to capture your heart and mind, and each page gets easier to turn as you yearn for the ultimate resolution to this unholy drama.
Looking back on the book as a whole, I do not consider The Gathering Dark a great read, as it exhibits a number of weaknesses that made it difficult for me to fully commit myself to it. Golden does imbue his vampires with a complexity you won't find in many a vampire novel, but this can be a double-edged sword. As much as I like vampires of a most exotic and unusual breed, some of the abilities of Golden's Shadows just exceed my mind's willingness to blindly accept what I am reading, and this diminishes my enjoyment of the novel. Still, there is certainly originality and literary talent contained within each of Golden's pages, and any fan of vampire fiction will doubtless appreciate the chance to explore the decidedly dark world of this author's creation.