The Stress of Her Regard

The Tim Powers series continues.

I have not read the “sequel”Hide Me Among the Graves. It’s a sequel only that it is set in the same universe with the Nephilim.

This is the book that started the processing of putting the expensive and complete editions of Clark Ashton Smith’s fiction and poetry on my shelves.

And I will be ending my Tim Powers series with a look at Declare, my favorite Tim Powers’ novel.

Raw Feed (2005): The Stress of Her Regard, Tim Powers, 1989.Stress of Her Regard

In terms of the number of elements he put together in his plot, the complexity of historical events he had to fit his plot into the interstices of, this may be Powers most accomplished novel.

Powers fits together the lives of several historical figures — not just one Romantic poet but three: John Keats, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron as well as their literary acquaintances including Leigh Hunt and the petulant (and here vampiric and menacing) Dr. Polidori, the Biblical nephilim, several elements of the European vampire legend, Frankenstein and its author Mary Shelley, Italian politics (specifically the importantly named Carbonari), quantum physics (and questions of free will and determinism), Austro-Hungarian politics, the ancient riddle of the Sphinx and speculations on silicon versus carbon life. And, of course, there is his excellent use of epigraphs at the beginning of chapters. Most of them are from the Romantic poets in the novel and fit uncannily with his plot (of course, Powers achieved this effect by building his plot from those quotes).

Not all of them are from the featured poets. The wonderful title phrase comes from a Clark Ashton Smith poem (Powers is a fan). Some of the epigraphs are also quotes from letters. Fittingly, for a novel featuring vampires, this novel has a persistent air of horror about it, particularly from the doom of whole families getting the attentions of the nephilim and the temptation to trade inspiration and artistic talent (and reap immortality — the Romantic poets aren’t the only literary figures to have connections with the nephilim) for one’s soul and family. There is, of course, also the air of doom given the lives of Keats, Shelley, and Byron.

There are several of the familiar Powers elements here. The maiming of characters is taken to the extreme of any Powers’ novel. Protagonist Michael Crawford loses one whole finger, part of another, gets a permanent limp from being shot in the leg, and goes bald after spending some time offering himself as a Christ parody to the blood drinking sexual underground of the nephilim fetishists. Josephine Carmody loses an eye. There are family issues — the whole idea of some humans being adopted by the nephilim family. John Keats’ poem “Lamia” is one of the major influences on the story. The portrayal of the nephilim as beautiful, erotically attractive, and snake-like — as well as linked with Medusa — comes from that poem. There is also a fully believable romance, forged in adversity and self-sacrifice (a noble trait many Powers heroes come to embrace), between Josephine and Crawford. Incest — a plot element of Powers’ Fisher King trilogy — is here with Shelley and his nephilim twin sister. As with Powers’ The Drawing of the Dark, there is magic in high places, here in a thrilling scene (which, in other novels, would have been the climax but is here about a third of the way in the book) set in the Swiss Alps. Of course, Powers’ Declare with its scenes on Mount Ararat also features magic in high places as well as sharing the idea of the nephilim.

Austro-Hungarian politics show up here as they do in The Drawing of the Dark. Josephine’s multiple personalities would show up later in the character of Plumtree in Powers’ Earthquake Weather. Byron, of course, also shows up (as a quite different sort of character — he comes off as a very difficult person here and a bit of a jerk — if a very talented one) in Powers’ The Anubis Gate.

I didn’t quite like this novel as well as Declare even though the Romantic poets were as interesting of characters as Kim Philby and the plotting was even more intricate — if not alternating back and forth in time like that novel. (Stylistically, it seemed to me that Powers reveals a major part of his fantasy element — the existence and characteristics of the nephilim — earlier than his other fantasy novels.) However, I didn’t think he quite integrated the speculations touching on quantum physics and what, exactly, Werner the Austro-Hungarian was up to.

I would certainly consider it one of Powers’ three best novels.


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