Our Lady of Darkness Paperback – Oct 1978
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For an accomplished pro like Leiber, a sorry performance. A hack writer of horror stories, recovering from a three-year alcoholic binge with the aid of a pure and lovely harpsichordist, cottons on to some funny influences on the loose in his 'Frisco apartment. It all started with a long-ago weirdo who wrote a volume of dark mutterings against the sinister spiritual forces in modern cities. Leiber can toss off a polished phrase or - with disturbing frequency - a purple inanity. The plot, which involves an occult booby-trap laid fifty years ago for none other than Clark Ashton Smith, has enough loose ends to cover Colt Tower in double macrame. (Kirkus Reviews)
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1977's 'Our Lady of Darkness,' Leiber's final novel is, in a way, the culmination of all his ghost stories up until this point. The story revolves around Franz, a horror writer and recovering alcoholic in San Fran loosely based on Fritz himself who, after discovering in a used bookstore an old handwritten journal of bizarre metaphysical ramblings--which he believes to have been owned by (real-life) horror fantasist and Lovecraft colleague Clark Ashton Smith--begins experiencing unexplainable, seemingly supernatural happenings in the city. He starts to notice--from the safety of his apartment two miles away, using binoculars--a mysterious, robed and hooded figure on the ominous hill named Carona Heights. Intrigued, he decides to visit the hill himself, and once atop it, tries to find his own apartment among the multitude with his binoculars, just for the heck of it. What Franz sees in his apartment window chills him: it's the same figure...staring at him.
To say any more would ruin the fun of experiencing the slow-building mystery that, while not exactly filled with blood-curdling terror, is stuffed with the sense of foreboding doom and unsettling, almost smothering atmosphere that Leiber began perfecting four decades earlier with the help of his semi-mentor and letters-correspondent, H.P. Lovecraft. Leiber, however, has a much more engaging style than Lovecraft, and there were times when I forgot I was reading, a rarity for me when reading a novel with such a seemingly outrageous premise.
Though it certainly won't be for everyone (as evidenced by the mixed reviews here), due to long passages of exposition that may not be to some readers' tastes, this was an extremely absorbing experience for me, and anyone looking for an entirely unique take on the classic ghost story could certainly do worse than 'Our Lady of Darkness.' This, along with 'Conjure Wife' and his short story collections--such as 'Night's Black Agents,' 'Heroes and Horrors,' 'Night Monsters,' and 'The Ghost Light,'--are without peer in the genre, and are absolutely essential for fans of intelligent, well-written horror.
While this book does have a philisophical bent, it is more musings on the nature of insanity and reality and the possibility of cities creating their own special brand of supernatural, deemed "paramental" in the book.
The book is very reminiscent of Crowley's "Diary of a Drug Fiend," even mentioning him by name a few times. The writing style is very similar, which could perhaps may cause some readers problems in really becoming engrossed. However, about halfway through the book when the main character begins to truly study the mystery of the paramental, the story becomes very quick and engaging.
While labeled "urban fantasy" it is more in line with horror, and even more specifically, it is dealing with a new breed of occult, something that La Vey and Crowley had a serious hand in. I actually really love this book, and I'm incredibly happy I picked it up despite the reviews I read.