01/09/2008. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: Orbit. 387 page paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 1-84149-467-4.
check out website: www.orbitbooks.net and www.lilithsaintcrow.com
If you are given the name Lilith SaintCrow then fate probably meant you to be a writer of dark fantasy. Lilith started writing at the age of ten, we are told, so by now she has become pretty good at it. So good, in fact, that she over does it.
'Dead Man Rising' is narrated in the first person by Dante Valentine, a Psion and bounty hunter with a bit of demon in her. She has extraordinary talents and is powerful enough to destroy a house single-handed. Simply by speaking sternly, she can make the ornaments tremble. As usual in this sort of fiction, she also looks like a Hollywood starlet. Gone are the days when witches and their ilk were ugly.
There is a new murderer in Saint City who gruesomely rips his victims to shreds and the cops want Dante to track him down. The cop in charge is one of Dante's few friends, so she agrees. Aided by Jace, a shaman as well as her ex-lover, she sets to work following the clues. To her dismay, the clues point towards her awful childhood when she was a state ward in Rigger Hall, an institute of learning for Magi, Psions and other paranormals that makes Hogwarts seem as friendly as Billy Bunter's old school. Ex-pupils are being murdered. Dante can cope with demons, vampires and werewolves but even thinking about Rigger Hall scares the Hell out of her. It's a tough assignment.
'Dead Man Rising' is the second of three books about Dante Valentine, the first being 'Working For the Devil'. The books are set in a near future society shaped by scientific advances, especially genetics, and a revival of magic known as the Awakening. It's an interesting but complicated background so I spent the first few chapters struggling to figure out what was going on. When I discovered the glossary at the back of the book, explaining much of the terminology, things became slightly easier. I would suggest that others read 'Working for the Devil' first as it might make induction into this complex world less daunting.
It might not though. Absorbing any brand new SF or fantasy background can be hard work but the process was not helped by SaintCrow's over-written style. Every gesture and every expression of every character, every thought of the first person protagonist, is laboriously conveyed and over interpreted, along with details of tiles, furniture and so on. It is easy to do. I am typing this now with one foot hooked around the back of my chair and my long fingers tapping at the keyboard. It's a bit chilly for August. Outside the bushes are waggling slightly in an unseasonable breeze with dim daylight illuminating their green leaves. A butterfly just landed on the begonia. I blink and the taste of the coffee I just drank is slightly bitter on my tongue.
This sort of super-realism is probably a result of word processing technology. When writers had to bash the stuff out by hand they were more inclined to make the words count, ie to measurably advance the story. Blessed with touch type technology bad writers can use superfluous detail to stretch a thin plot to novel length.
That is definitely not the case here. 'Dead Man Rising' is an excellent fantasy-cum-murder mystery with an intriguing background, great characters and a gripping plot. Lilith SaintCrow writes well, but too much. A faster pace would have benefited the story and made the book a hundred pages shorter. It's still very good though.
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