From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Fangland by John Marks, Titans of Chaos by John C. Wright

Fangland, by John Marks
Penguin Press (400p) $14.00

Evangeline Harker is an associate producer with the venerable TV news magazine, The Hour. She’s sent to Romania to research a story on a shadowy underworld figure called Ion Torgu. Expecting to meet Torgu’s spokesman, Evangeline encounters Torgu himself, a strangely magnetic man of surpassing ugliness. With the promise of an interview, he persuades her to accompany him to his resort hotel in Transylvania. There Evangeline is plunged into a nightmare. Torgu isn’t human; in the words of Clementine Spence, a woman who works for a secret society that tracks monsters, he’s “two million years of murder in the form of a man”–the atrocities of the human race incarnate, an undead blood-drinker whose song, a litany of the names of the mass graves of humankind, infects and maddens everyone who hears it. Torgu is ready for a change of venue, and Evangeline’s connection with The Hour, whose New York headquarters looks down on the gravesite of the World Trade Center, provides the opportunity. But Evangeline, irrevocably transformed by her encounter with Torgu, has also discovered the only thing he fears. As Torgu’s infection, embedded in corrupted tapes, crosses the ocean to spread among the staff of The Hour, Evangeline returns to New York, not knowing whether she will defeat Torgu–or succeed him.

If this sounds familiar, it’s meant to. But Fangland is more than a clever transposition of Dracula to a present-day American setting. Marks re-fashions the story and its familiar themes of life and death into a commentary on the larger resonance of the traumatic events of September 11. All the characters are haunted by that day; the mass grave at Ground Zero is what draws Torgu to New York. With his song of atrocity that imparts to all who hear it an absolute understanding of the reality of murder, Torgu is the embodiment of September 11 and events like it, ineradicably present despite human beings’ desire to deny and forget. Drawing on his experience as a producer for 60 Minutes, Marks paints an utterly convincing picture of an embattled news show where rivalry, betrayal, and paranoia are so much the order of the day that the madness Torgu brings seems almost a natural endpoint. The sequences in Torgu’s filthy, moldering hotel, where Evangeline encounters unspeakable things, are unforgettably horrific. A riveting, dread-suffused novel of horror old and new–and also one of the most original fictional treatments of 9/11 that this reviewer has seen.—(ISBN: 978-0-1431-1253-2)—Victoria Strauss

* * *

Titans of Chaos, by John C. Wright
Tor (368pp) $7.99

To re-cap from an earlier Fantasy review: In Orphans of Chaos (2005), Amelia, Vanity, Colin, Quentin, and Victor — supposedly students at an assumed British boarding school — discovered a great deal about who and what they were and attempted an escape, only to be captured and again wiped clean of memory by their teacher-keepers. Fugitives of Chaos [2007] takes up where the first book left off and narrator Amelia, helped by a creature in her bloodstream, recalls who they are (Amelia is a Greek goddess from hyperspace, Quentin from the underworld, Colin from dreamland, Victor from outer space, and Vanity from Homer — all immortal beings), who their keepers really are, that each orphan has supernatural (or extreme scientific) power that checks one of their keepers, and that they are in dire danger and must escape again. Although the orphans are not truly teenagers or human, they generally react and interact as such. They are not only living a tense high adventure, they are also coming of age both metaphorically and in terms of their true identities….

And now we come to Titans of Chaos, the third in the trilogy, and, overall, Wright continues to succeed with his highly erudite science fantasy of godlike beings with adolescent urges. The quintet survive a sea battle and, realizing they need to hide and further experiment with their powers, they make their way to a deserted Pacific island. After three charming chapters in which they learn more about themselves and their pasts, they take several chapters to return to civilization (via Mars) and are again set upon by the Forces Against Them and battle again ensues and ensues. (The nine chapters of sure death and just-in-time magical-scientific salvation may seem overindulgent to some readers.) We learn more about the gods and monsters and are not surprised, considering all that salvation, that Amelia and company survive. The ending is a bit odd [evidently immortal all-powerful gods can barely handle the sight of a nude girl (although this may be something we all learned long ago about gods)] but leaves room for future adventures of the maturing “orphans.” The Chronicles of Chaos leave no doubt Wright is an author of miraculous imagination, profound wit, and wondrous intellect — it’s just that with all the breathtaking tour de forcing, the reader may occasionally yearn for a little more oxygen.—(ISBN: 978-0-7653-5560-7)—Paula Guran

Tagged as: