A meandering gothic tale of wormish fiends, overshadowed by a giant kite and frequent supper respites.
Written just before the author’s death, many reviewers have speculated that the writing suffered horribly as a result. There are seemingly random point-of-view switches (not set off by modern-standard breaks), dead end plots, confusing motivations of character, and staring contests (yes, mandatory staring contests that nobody can seem to avoid). Oh yeah, horribly offensive racist elements that probably even exceed what one might expect from this time period can be found in this work.
Most times when a book is read it should be considered on its own terms. For this book, the proper placement in history, literature and an open mind do very little to help the story elevate to any kind of level worth reading.
Despite all this, there are some interesting elements that rise up from the tattered ruins like dinosaur bones poking out of a primordial swamp. My favorite of which was an ominous kite that seemed to cast a strange influence over the characters and setting and even figure into the plot proper. The White Worm and its legend and place of abode are also intriguing and bolster up the back-story. The writing itself is very manageable for being an older work.
What mainly works in this story is the horror elements and the insufferable madness that rots the brains of the two chief antagonists: Lady Arabella and Edgar Caswall. The author does a decent job of describing their increasing descent into evil chaos. We seem to know what’s driving Lady Arabella’s ambitions and Caswall’s possessiveness. In contrast, the protagonists feel a bit like fluff as they wrestle with all the evil surrounding them. The African character is made to be one-dimensional and the other character’s views toward him are despicable and provide little more than an author’s lazy and contrived plot device.
The plot is not tight and moves slow as it plods over the occasional hole along the way. For myself, I found the continual and frequent meetings for strategy over tea between the protagonist and his would-be-ally (Sir Nathaniel) tedious and redundant if not pointless. The protagonist’s invocation of morality (sometimes a twisted morality) feel like a fragile shell of trite emblematic overtures. And the staring contests go on and on and on into absurdity and hilarity. I suspect that in the author’s time “mesmerism” (later hypnosis) were new and mysterious things in the minds of the culture and perhaps audiences of that time might be more intrigued by these references. That said, the author makes no great literary effort to complement this bygone fascination.
This is a story about privileged gentry that is filled with boring anecdotes of how dire their circumstances are without really feeling so dire. There is definitely a disconnect between the perils of the characters and what’s supposed to be at stake. The contrast is felt sharply when the climax of the plot crests into an absolutely bombastic finale that is fit to fritter across the pages of Hollywood’s worst action blockbuster (though it is described very well).
Ultimately, this book is not worth checking out. Not even for the fact that it is written by the author of “Dracula.” It may hold some small interest for those wanting to fully explore the author’s career (perhaps as an end cap of sorts). Perhaps those heavily interested in horror and wacky stories might find some elements worth noting. Overall, this is book is not for the casual fan or even the avid fan of this genre or related genres.
Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).