"The Succubus was newly born, nurtured by the loving care of a horned prince from the pummeled soul of a camp-following whore (who had, in fleshy life, serviced one of Napoleon's best officers). With skilled hand and eye, like a master jeweler, he fashioned his child from this twisted spirit, purifying and distilling her ... burning and sculpting this ghost of a once human thing into a crimson-skinned siren--her form holding the secret fire of cinnabar and the muted light of a November sunset."
According to Michael Marano, there are two great powers in the depths of Hell. Belial, the Unbowed One, is the horned prince who treasures beauty--the beauty of individual human souls, the beauty of a future when all is "despair and the terror of the omnipresent sublime." Leviathan, the Enfolded One, is an enormous armored worm, a blind idiot whose only purpose is the perpetuation of ugliness--the banality of evil, human souls entrapped in a gross, undifferentiated mass. The battle between these two comes to a head in Boston, at the end of 1990, the dawn of the Gulf War. The combatants are a newborn succubus and a handful of benighted human beings. The backdrop is the darkness of the River Charles, the lavender-gray of the winter sky, and the millions of lonely voices of the city.
Dawn Song is an ambitious first novel, enriched by the author's grad school background in medieval history, alchemy, and the kabbalah. Marano's measured, often lyrical prose uses a host of gritty details to evoke the desperation of a handful of Bostonians--their unique, yet sadly predictable, plights, and their multilayered inner worlds. The complex plot is skillfully woven together around the themes of evil-as-beauty vs. evil-as-ugliness. The book's only flaw is that the ending is rather muddled, but you'll have been treated to so many poignant moments and amazing horrors by the time you get there, you'll hardly mind. --Fiona Webster
From Publishers Weekly
Opposing powers in Hell use human surrogates to duke out their differences in this ambitious but ponderously overwritten dark fantasy debut. The immortal adversaries in Marano's occult cosmos are Belial, the Unbowed One, whose earthly emissary is a sexually voracious succubus named Jeannette, and Leviathan, the Enfolded One, who embodies what "the world knows as patriotism, bold enterprise, religious fervor, and righteous indignation." The mortal puppets whose strings they pull include sensitive gay bookstore clerk Lawrence, Harvard Divinity School student Ed Sloane (Lawrence's unrequited love interest) and a motley assortment of hangers-on to the Boston academic community. Set in 1990, at the height of the Gulf War, the novel attempts to delineate kabbalistic forces that shape the turmoil of individual lives and global dramas. But Marano's dark divinities, whose thoughts manifest in eccentrically typeset passages, are inscrutable to mere mortal readers. His human characters are not much clearer: mired in angst over the flaws that make them vulnerable to infernal influences, they can barely cross a room without collapsing into heaps of self-reflection. Marano compounds these drags on his narrative's momentum with an assault of awkward analogies and metaphors ("The mental images that strung his ideas into a cogent thesis were consigned to a particular hall of his memory palace. The mnemonic devices were displayed as suits of armor would be in the hall of a museum"). Despite its vividly imagined tableau of the world as a cosmic combat zone and average Americans as celestial soldiers, this novel is disappointingly devoid of the awe and mystery it strains so mightily to evoke.
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