Monday, June 04, 2007

CHALLENGE | Threshold

Once Upon a Time Challenge 2007

Threshold by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Caitlin R. Kiernan is an author I've been wanting to pick up for a while. She has some impressive authors giving her cover blurbs. Among them, Neil Gaiman calls her "the poet and bard of the wasted and the lost." High praise enough to pick up this novel, I guess.

Threshold is a dark fantasy that invokes the terrors of H.P. Lovecraft. Set in modern day Birmingham, Ala, the story revolves around paleontology major Chance Matthews and her friends. The story opens one night, while Chance, her boyfriend Deacon Silvey and their friend Elise, were stoned out and decided to break into the water works tunnels for kicks. What they saw in those tunnels that night was too horrific for them to talk about it. Later, Chance and Deacon broke up, Elise killed herself and Chance lost the only family she had when her grandfather died.

Out of all this enters a haunting albion girl, Dancy Flammarion - who claims an angel told her that her destiny is to slay monsters. And now, Dancy needs Chance and Deacon's help. It has something to do with what Chance, Deacon and Elise saw in the water works tunnel - it costed Elise her life, but neither Deacon nor Chance are willing to revisit that terrible night. In fact, we are never told what was so terrible in that water works tunnel that night. Everything is left to the imagination of course, but towards the end, I just don't give a damn.

I understand that the author may be trying to evoke a sense of horror more implied than shown, as time and again Dancy tells Chance Matthews that the monsters cannot be understood, that is it older than the land and alien. But I'm afraid the menace of this ancient evil just failed to come through, and we are left with a bunch of sad losers running around trying to comprehend something they are not meant to understand. And the readers are none the wiser.

Most disappointing is the misuse of the character Dancy Flammarion - a 17 year old albion girl with the ability to see and slay monsters? That is a promising premise - if nothing else, Caitlin R. Kiernan knows the power of symbolism and imagery. Dancy Flammarion is the most interesting part of the book, and the readers expect she will be the pivot of the storyline. No, instead Dancy Flammarion disappears halfway through the book, and the main action is left to the less interesting characters. It is an unexpected plot-twist of course, but a weak one, because the plotline just slows down the moment Dancy disappears. Without spoiling anyone, I can only say the solution to slaying the monsters is too conventional if we are to imagine them as powerful creatures older than memory. It is wrapped up too conveniently, and the truth is - I actually think the author has the potential to do better than this.

After Threshold I'm hesitant about picking up another book by the same author. Maybe I will, in the near future. Maybe this is not the most representative of her best works.

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