Via Boing Boing:
Tim Powers's latest novel is Hide Me Among the Graves, and it is a fine example of the work of a much-beloved author, and a spooky ride through Victorian London to boot. In Hide Me, Powers retells the lives of pre-Raphaelite sculptor Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his siblings, notably the poet Christina Rossetti. Powers is justly famed for his secret histories, fictionalized accounts of real historical persons that turn the coincidences of their lives into deep mysteries to be plumbed for stories. Here is a near-perfect example of how well this trick works, especially for Tim Powers, whose special gift is to be able to write about superstition and the supernatural in a way that literally raises the hairs on my neck and puts gooseflesh on my arms, though I am as staunch an atheist materialist as you will ever meet.
Here, the spookiness revolves around two ancient vampires -- one of them having started her life as Bodicea -- who haunt London, and whose bite and blood grant poets and painters access to surpassing beauty and art. These two beasts are working to destroy London, to call down an earthquake that will kill everyone in the city, and their plan requires the blood and cooperation of the Rossettis, who are -- at times, and always motivated by access to the numinous -- willing accomplices to this plan. As a variety of personages fictional and real chase each other through the superstition-steeped cobbles of London, and through the ancient and haunted cloacae that run beneath the streets, we're exposed to a dreadful and terrifying Victorian world.
Powers's treatment of superstition works so well, I think, because he deals with it without apology. There's never a sense that superstition is just a kind of alternate physics, with its own rules that are different from the ones we're accustomed to. The supernatural world of Tim Powers has an internal logic, but it's the logic of dreams and the id, not the logic of the scientific method. Powers's work engages with something prerational that is buried deep, deep in our brains, and that won't be bullied into submission by mere reason.