Tuesday, October 9, 2012

and now, for something completely different: Lady of the Shades, by Darren Shan

Orion Books, 2012 (UK)
312 pp
(read in September)

If you go to the author's website you might notice that UK writer Darren Shan is a guy who really isn't a crime novelist at all, but instead specializes in Urban Fantasy and horror, mostly for teens and young adults.  Lady of the Shades is not in either category; actually, it's something very different.  I don't have the foggiest idea how I heard about this book (maybe a blurb somewhere connected to something else I was exploring online), but I bought it, read it and had a lot of fun with it.

the author of Lady of the Shades, Darren Shan
Although this book may not be standard crime fiction fare,  I've come to realize that sometimes pulling away from the formulaic and reading outside the box can produce some eye-opening moments.  Lady of the Shades turned out to be as twisty as a sack full of  Philly pretzels;  I actually thought I'd had it figured out a couple of times but alas it was not to be.  Sadly I can't really get into why this book is so twisty without giving away the show, but I will say that just when you think things are one way, the rug is twitched out from underneath your feet leaving you flat on your can in surprise.

I'll offer just a brief synopsis because I don't want to kill it for anyone else.  Lady of the Shades is ultimately a novel about how a person's past continues to have a strong bearing on his/her present, and it's also a rather odd story about the power and hold of love.   Ed Sieveking is an American author who, much like the hero of Stuart Neville's series that begins with Ghosts of Belfast, carries ghosts around with him where ever he goes. He understands that his ghosts are "probably the workings of a deluded mind," and likely "the projections of a deeply troubled psyche."  He doesn't want to accept that he's "a loon," and is looking to find a way back to normality. In London, where his newest horror novel (involving Human Spontaneous Combustion) is set, he finds himself at a party where he bumps into a beautiful woman named Deleena Emerson.  Ed's previous books are not ones you'd find on the bestseller lists at any time, so he's very flattered when he realizes Deleena knows who he is and that she's read his books.  From that meeting on, Ed is severely smitten, boinged straight through the heart by Cupid's arrow, but any hopes of the two of them becoming a permanent item are quickly put on hold  when Ed discovers a well-guarded secret about her.  Like Ed, Deleena's present is very much affected by her past, and Ed soon finds himself caught up in a very strange predicament or two or three, where anything can happen and where nothing is at all like it seems.  All he wants is the truth -- but that's not going to be so easy, as the line between what is real and what is not begins to blur and get hazier as the novel proceeds, continually testing Ed's ability to "make sense of the world."

Actually, Lady of the Shades tests the reader's ability to understand things as well.  The first half of this novel introduces all of the players, especially the intriguingly-flawed Ed, who comes from a very troubled past that he is trying to forget.  Ed is basically a good person, hopeful for his future, but when love hits, it hits him hard and it tends to screw up his decision-making processes.  It's very easy sometimes to groan out loud over some of Ed's choices, which aren't always that smart.  The pace of the book is a bit slow at first, but quickly picks up, and in the second half, the author takes his readers into hyperdrive as one revelation after another comes flying off the pages.  Much of what you find out frankly stops the show; other times you just find yourself laughing at the craziness.  Then you reach the bizarre ending, which, considering the context of this novel, does actually work.  It's strange, but it does fit.  And if you've ever wanted to read a  novel where you don't mind being manipulated, this one is perfect.  Seriously. 

I truly wish I could say more about this book, but then these paragraphs would be filled with unforgivable spoilers and someone somewhere might be upset.  I will say that this is one of the screwiest (in a good way) novels I've ever read, especially in terms of crime fiction, where twists and turns are the general rule of thumb; here, Shan's imagination elevates them well beyond the norm.   This book is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, especially crime readers who like to go from point A to point B in a well-ordered fashion.  It also strains the credulity that most crime fiction readers, including me,  look for in their reading.   But frankly, this book is just plain fun and even better, it gets the better of you.  Lady of the Shades is a treat, and is perfect for times when you want a break from the serious and just feel like going with the flow.


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