Tim Powers has always been one of dark fantasy's major eccentrics, and he has not mellowed or grown more ordinary with age. It is admirable that Corvus has started publishing him, and better that he has gone back to one of his best books of the 1980s, and found even more interesting things to do with its ideas.
The Stress of Her Regard (Corvus, £8.99) was a gloomy historical fantasy in which Powers managed to combine the rise of the Habsburg Empire, the legend of the man who accidentally married a statue, vampirism, the Romantic obsession with mountains and the early deaths of Byron, Shelley and Keats. He weaves all these things together, along with the sad tale of Crawford whose wife is horribly killed on their wedding night. He ends up with her vengeful and deranged sister Josephine; like most of Powers's heroes, Crawford and Josephine pay a terrible cost for their success.
There were enough loose ends that it always seemed plausible that Powers might come back to their world. One of the secondary characters was John Polidori, Lord Byron's physician. Polidori is connected to another set of poets: his niece and nephew, Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. One of the fascinations of the new book, Hide Me Among the Graves, is the way that Powers weaves their well-documented lives into the story of how Crawford and Josephine's son John go looking in the London underworld for the daughter he didn't know he had fathered. His relationship with the former whore Adelaide is as difficult, thorny and ultimately touching as is his father's with the mad Josephine. One of the strengths of Powers's books has always been that they are primarily about people and only secondarily about the huge set-pieces and gaudily complicated ideas.
Nonetheless, the ingenuity of these two books is one of the reasons for reading them. Powers's speciality is secret supernatural histories of the world that offer far more plausible explanations for everything than, say, Dan Brown, and are conceptually far wittier. He is an intelligent, emotionally complex writer with a taste for elegantly conceived nightmare.
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