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Dawn Song

Michael Marano

ISBN 0-312-86432-9

Tor Books

US Trade Hardcover

396 pages; $24.95

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2001




Surprisingly enough, the nature and motivations of evil are not a common topic in horror. All too often, evil is merely a 'black box', the inspiration for acts of violence and cruelty. We read the graphic descriptions of the results, but don't necessarily get any insight into the motivations beyond "evil". In 'Dawn Song', Michael Marano attempts to provide that insight. He uses gorgeous language and evocative descriptions to portray a war in hell that spills over to the earthly plane. Unfortunately, his characters get lost in the tidal waves of words while his plot advances at a pace that could itself be called evil. His virtuosity with his medium is his undoing. Even his best characters, the demons waging this war, become blurry and indistinct, dulling the impact they might have had.

While 'Dawn Song' is not the fastest reading or most coherent novel ever, Marano does have some very interesting tricks up his sleeve. He sets the novel back in the winter of 1990, during the Gulf War, in the city of Boston. His poetic and surreal descriptions of the city are often quite striking. Alas, the characters he populates this landscape with are mostly forgettable and uninteresting. Lawrence, the clerk in a bookstore who ran away from an oppressive small-town atmosphere, is so depressed and repressed as to seem merely whiney instead of tragic. Ed, the priest in the story, has some interesting mental pictures he uses to get through the day, but he's certainly no equal to the well-drawn priests in 'The Exorcist'.

The other landscape where events take place, Hell itself, is equally poetically described, but more confusing. Two demons are struggling for the throne in hell, one using the traditional motif of evil as the gross and detestable things we on earth typically peg as evil, while the other wants to use evil as a beauty that can burn your brain out. To this end, it sends an incubus into the earthly plane. The character of this incubus is quite craftily drawn. Her slow incarnation in clever and surreal. But once she arrives, she has nothing to do.

The writing and ideas in 'Dawn Song' show real promise. But that promise is unrealized in this particular novel, which for all its poetry is all dressed up with nowhere to go.