The Demon Lover
Dion Fortune, Foreword by Diana L. Paxson
5 1/2 x 8 1/2
November 1, 2010
Occult fiction written by a practicing occultist has a very different flavor from stories written by “tourists.” This is not always an untarnished good: over-explanation will creep in here and there, be the author’s name Fortune, Crowley, or Sellars. Fortunately, the expository element does not overweigh the narrative in the present novel (as it does, thunderously, in Crowley’s Moonchild).
Fortune’s philosophy, developed in the Theosophical Society and matured in orders like the Stella Matutina, may seem slightly quaint to contemporary readers, but the breadth and depth of her understanding of occult and spiritual tradition shines through. There is a vampiric element in the book, which follows the original folkloric elements of vampirism, with no stain whatever of Stoker and his successors. The presentation of ritual magic and trance work is impeccable if slightly idealistic. She also engages in the soleicism, common to her times, of viewing Christianity as vastly superior to everything that preceded it, even resorting to characterizing ancient Paganism as “primitive” even though she was referring to the civilized religions of Hellenistic times.
The first part of the book seems to promise nothing more than a good occult potboiler (and, oh, how Owen Smith’s lovely, campy, noir cover art helps that along). A rogue magician, Justin Lucas, hires Veronica Mainwaring fresh out of business school, ostensibly as a private secretary, but actually because he can train her as a trance medium and psychic spy. At this point, I was hearing the theme music from “Dark Shadows.” Diana Paxson, in her foreword, issues a spoiler warning (middle of page 3) to which the reader should give serious consideration. One will only be able to read this book for the first time once, after all, and the second half of the foreword is just as good in the place of dessert as appetizer. I am also unwilling to deal very much in spoilers, so I will just say that the plot gets very strange and rich and stays that way, and that my anachronistic comparison to “Dark Shadows” turned out to be unfair.
There is, at the end, a weighty moral consideration, and plenty of room to wonder about the author’s dispensation of it. Paxson addresses this in that part of the foreword I told you not to read yet, so be sure not to skip dessert.
Fortune makes a very great deal out of contrasting the personalities of Veronica and Lucas along traditional gender lines. This is one thing that she pounds on rather heavy-handedly, where a more experienced novelist would have let the characters show, not the author tell. It gets to be a bit much in one or two places. It is all made up for by the end, as we see Veronica’s experiences open her up and develop her spiritually and mentally. The Demon Lover was Fortune’s first novel, so it will be interesting to see how her narrative skills developed in the later books.
So, this book under-promised and over-delivered, despite its negatives. The ending doesn’t tie up every little loose end and show how the Good Guys Won; it is much more like real life. To a contemporary reader, The Demon Lover may seem to have broken the levees and escaped the limits of the genre novel, except that those limits mostly developed later.
[Legalities: Receipt of a complimentary review copy is gratefully acknowledged, opinions are my own, your mileage may vary, Don’t Tread on Me.]