I swore I'd never read those crazy books that mingled crime fiction and the paranormal -- until I picked up one of John Connolly's and realized the hauntings and lines of evil portrayed were really good metaphors for the kinds of crime that even rural areas find poisoning the well of life from time to time. And then I more or less tripped over Tarn Richardson's first book in his "The Darkest Hand Trilogy," The Damned. As I wrote in my review of The Damned last year, Richardson's choice to use an enduring Catholic Inquisition, warrior priests, and accursed werewolves turned out to be an apt way to portray the blood-soaked years that made up World War I.
Now the second book is available: THE FALLEN. Crusading inquisitor Poldek Tacit suffers the most horrific tortures of the Inquisition as the book opens -- while the dark forces he once battled are in motion from within the heart of the Vatican, laboring to be sure the killing grounds are truly saturated with the blood of Europe's finest generation.
As Tacit reflects on the secrets and maneuvers that resulted in his imprisonment -- for preventing carnage at a "Mass of Peace" in Notre Dame attended by international peacemakers -- he's well aware that if he'd been true to his depressed, angry, despairing self, and less susceptible to a nun's kindness and integrity, he might not be in this plight.
In a world fuelled by hate, at the end it was a love Tacit thought he never could feel again, this time for Isabella, which brought salvation for him and save Isabella. Making sure she was out of harm's way, Tacit had bounded alone into the Mass for Peace and blasted Cardinal Monteira from the pulpit just moments before he had slipped the stinking wolf's pelt over his head and transformed into a bloodthirsty werewolf. Tacit wondered if he could have done anything differently to save himself, to avoid arrest. ... No, he would have changed nothing.Meanwhile, Isabella too is examining the events and catching up with their causes, in the company of a young officer and his partner, less tortured but also in danger:
"Stop!" she said. "Stop! ... You're telling me great swathes of people have sided with the Devil? That it originates from within the Vatican? That they are attempting to see his return to the world? ... I will not believe it for a moment!"Fear not, the Poldek Tacit/Isabella romance never has a chance to heat up the way that a certain vampire series did a decade ago. THE FALLEN swiftly turns into a series of battles on the Italian front of the First World War ("the war to end all wars") that author Tarn Richardson notes (at the book's end) have been seemingly forgotten -- yet were held in extreme conditions and cost the lives of almost half a million men.
"And that is why they are allowed to grow, fester like a disease in a wound. For long we have investigated. They are preparing his domain. But he will only return when the world is truly ready, and his lieutenants are in place ... they must be stopped."
The abrupt, short chapters of the book -- there are more than a hundred -- fit this battle-by-battle crushing force of history well. And Richardson's use of his alternate history makes more sense out of the insistent killings than any dry narrative could. Tacit's determination to stop the forces of evil swiftly leads to his own position as a piece to sacrifice in the game. Can he make the sacrifice effective enough, worth the dying?
When I finally came up for air after reading this, I felt like I understood the cost of that war much better. Horror is sometimes the truth of those millions of deaths, isn't it? I'm looking forward to next year's finale. Meanwhile, I have a satisfyingly different point of view from which to look at some other powerful World War I narratives again, from those of Charles Todd's guilt-haunted mysteries to the heartbreaking clarity of Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy. And, of course, some nonfiction on the Great War -- even if that's not as strong a historical narrative as Richardson's own. From Overlook Press, publisher once again of the uncannily insightful.
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