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A Pageant of Horror,
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This review is from: The Light Is the Darkness (Paperback)
In The Light Is the Darkness, Laird Barron weaves a Byzantine story around one simple, central conflict: A brother must find his lost sister. The tension that unravels from there as Conrad Navarro finds clues in a variety of exotic locales all while Barron sheds more light on the family's history and their sudden, dysfunctional spiral into chaos all because younger brother, Ezra, waxed terminal, and the paterfamilias had means to get Ezra to one Dr. Drake, who possessed seeming immortality, the secrets of life and death, and a potent serum.
Conrad is this bruiser of highest caliber as well as a daunting intellect who managed to get shuttled off to a Greek island in order to receive combat training and rise through the ranks of the gladiatorial underground. He fights for the rich and powerful in the Pageant. With the large sums of money he receives from his matches, Conrad can continue to payoff People Who Know People Who while he crisscrosses the world in search of Imogene. While tracking down the ever-mysterious Dr. Drake, Imogene finds herself dabbling more and more in the darker side of things that could raise mere mortals to immortal status. Such is necessary when one wants to confront a dark lord eons-old, right? Fight fire with fire, right? There's always a price to pay for such searching.
In terms of action scenes, often Conrad`s scars tell enough of the story. Oh, there are plenty of crunchy action scenes, especially the ugly father-son knock-down, drag-out, but don't forget Conrad's a man looking for his missing sister and haunted by that awful family history and deflated by revelations along the way. He is a nearly perfect Timex protagonist, but in several flashbacks, Barron manages to make Conrad believably weak, vulnerable despite his being [spoiler redacted].
There's a problem with this novel, though. I realized it halfway through reading. The Light Is the Darkness, through no fault of Barron's, begs a spoiler-free review. There were a few bits I saw coming, and in my harhar-harumharum pride now realize, dang his time, Barron laid out some tantalizing red herrings. Horror morphs into mystery when the stakes are solving familial problems foisted upon a protagonist by a nigh-immortal villain dealing with the Dark. It's all about machinations; there are even strings on the puppet masters. Then there is the matter of the final chapters where Barron delivers several twists that, for a moment disappointed me. Then I came to my senses because he ran such a subtle series interferences that as Conrad strayed off the beaten path, so did I. Had a few "I see what you did there" moments, I did.
Your draw, then, gentle potential readers of The Light Is the Darkness: What price would you pay to reunite with a lost loved one, and how far would you trip the dark fantastic in order to do so? Furthermore, how much ass would you be willing to kick to do it?
With nods to sand-and-sandal flicks re: the Pageant along with a touch of Lovecraftian some-Elder-God-will-munch-all-humanity, Barron also delivers a handy quest motif with Conrad's Herculean, though self-imposed, labors. Apotheosis is just a pulpy, science fiction-y serum away. But the novel is a thriller masquerading as science fiction masquerading as horror.
Additionally, Barron shows some surrealist flair in various chapters where Conrad's mind traipses or stumbles or is forced into an altered state of consciousness. These are crisp and hard-edged moments in the book and worth re-reading for their lyrical content alone.
Another bit Barron does well is bringing the reader to the edge of a scene only to let it go dark, to leave enough ambiguity floating amid the lines on the pages so as not to condescend to audience's imagination. Beware the shadows elongating and fluxing at the periphery. Now, there are scenes where he follows through and delivers, and our doughty author here knows when to let go and let the reader's teased mind do that heavy lifting.
For that, I thank him.