Saturday, November 6, 2010

"… şi la sfârşit a mai rămas coşmarul" (… and at the end remained the nightmare) by Oliviu Crâznic

"… şi la sfârşit a mai rămas coşmarul" (… and at the end remained the nightmare)
Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Publisher: Editura Vremea
Review copy received through the courtesy of the publisher, Editura Vremea

Invited to a stranger’s wedding in a castle haunted by the devil, the fallen noble Arthur de Seragens finds himself caught in a terrible web of madness, betrayal and crime. While the guests die around him one by one in a mysterious way, cut down by an inhuman enemy, Arthur witnesses with horror at the noose getting tighter around the only person he cared about, the gorgeous Adrianna de Valois, the young daughter of the dark and feared chief of Police. Panicked and confused, Arthur is forced to make a fragile and controversial alliance with the strongest of the survivors, who already began together an investigation in the dark, but suspecting each other: the Viscount of Vincennes, Arthur’s childhood friend, versed in the saloon intrigues, logician and skillful hunter; the German Baron Von Walter the Traveler, who’s wanders through places forgotten by the world brought him face to face with unbearable truths; the beautiful and immoral Giulianna Sellini, who is said to have seduced the God and the Devil at the same time; the ex-priest Huguet de Castelnove, now a dangerous swordsman, with a road strewn with bodies behind him that leads to a mysterious mistress; the Duke of Chalais, the strong and cruel master of the land, refined, handsome and unable to abstain from his violent bursts; and, especially, the man who leads the investigation and who is feared by all, because one word from him can bring the stake – Albert de Guy, the Inquisitor…

It is difficult to talk about the Romanian horror fiction, mainly because it barely exists. It is difficult to make references to past Romanian horror titles and even more difficult to find modern ones. Trying to bring a change in this bitter state of things is Oliviu Crâznic, who makes his debut with a gothic novel, “… şi la sfârşit a mai rămas coşmarul” (… and at the end remained the nightmare).

Considering the tremendous efforts and the courage of Oliviu Crâznic to write and Vremea Publishing to publish such a novel on a market that seems a bit too conservative my mission becomes ingrate, because my experience with the book is not among the fortunate ones. Oliviu Crâznic chooses to make his debut with a gothic fiction, a sub-genre that it is rather dead on the outside markets, but I do not have a problem with. It is true that we are a little late to this party, but it is a party which was attended by heavy names, such as Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard or Shirley Jackson to name a few.

The story is told in the first person perspective and the character who tells the story is Arthur de Seragens. Arthur is invited to a wedding, but he finds the invitation strange and the company even stranger. The events that occur will turn out to be not only strange, but horrifying. Besides Arthur de Seragens the reader meets from the early stage a large cast of characters and that proved to be a challenge for me from the start. The story takes each into account but nothing in the beginning helped me to identify every character properly. Contributing to the confusion are the titles of each character, cavalier, count, viscount, baron or duke, deepens the state of confusion I was in. Especially since not always the title goes with the name and therefore at the start I had to go back and forth in order to make a hold on the characters. Because of the large cast, the characters fail to properly develop too. I couldn’t find any strong presence with the cast, the positive or negative ones looking flat and making me totally indifferent to their eventual destiny. There were a couple of things about the characters that didn’t hit me in the proper way either. For example, there is a reference to something in Arthur’s past for which I couldn’t find any relevance within the story. Also at some points some of the characters court each other although I believe that the events around them will rip away any desire for romance.

The wedding party is held in a castle, The Castle of Last Towers, near the village of Nuit-aux-Bois (which can be approximately translated as Night in the Woods) and Oliviu Crâznic manages to create a dark setting for his novel. The descriptions of the castle together with the pieces of information from its past create a chilling atmosphere, a proper setting for this gothic story. Unfortunately, there are descriptions that will warm the atmosphere back up and will take away the tension from the story. The author gives too much attention to the attire and jewelry of the characters. I am not saying that there is no need for these details, but if I go through every piece of clothing the characters wear there is the risk of feeling myself at a fashion show rather than in the presence of supernatural events that induce tension and discomfort.

The author makes constant promises of the events and horror to come with almost every chapter, but he doesn’t manage to deliver the tension and the terror as often as it is promised. There are a few tensioned and grotesque scenes, with a bit of action and surprising turn, but not enough for a supposed edgy novel. There is one chapter though, the best by far, the one involving a burning on a stake, dramatic, tensed and involving quite a lot of human error. If I come to think of it, I believe that the novel would have benefited from more of such moments. I mean there is human error at almost every step, but totally misplaced since the characters fail to find the responsible for the events around them until the respective is the last one left from the suspects. This proved to not be much fun for me. There is another thing that bothered me constantly. The characters make references to Slovakia throughout the story, but I am not sure that Slovakia existed under this name in the medieval times. I am no historian, but looking for information I could find that the territories of modern Slovakia were part of other empires at the time of the story. So it feels a bit strange to refer to it as Slovakia. Or so I believe.

Finishing Oliviu Crâznic’s novel I discovered a very interesting and quite uncommon element of it. The volume ends with an afterword written by the author that lengths almost as much as half of the novel. Although a bit strange for me I have to say that this is the part I enjoyed from this book. The afterword shows a lot of commitment from Oliviu Crâznic for his novel, a documentation thoroughly and carefully made, with very interesting facts and stories. Unfortunately, those proved to be more interesting for me than the actual story written by the author.

I am sorry that my review turned out as it is, because Oliviu Crâznic and Vremea Publishing made a praiseworthy effort, “… şi la sfârşit a mai rămas coşmarul” (… and at the end remained the nightmare) being the first step for the modern Romanian horror fiction. But sadly, I cannot shake the feeling that this novel is not exactly the proper way to encourage the Romanian horror fiction.


A Clive Barker Fan said...

I myself found the book very entertaining. I liked the characters, especially Sellini and Chalais. The ending was very suspensefull. I really think this is a return to the true horror novel. Glad it's a romanian.

Mihai A. said...

I am glad that you liked the book. Unfortunately, it didn't work for me, as much as I wished it would :)

oliviu craznic said...

I am very much thanking you for reading and reviewing my book. I admire you as a professional and I respect your point of view. I am anyway a little sad that my first contact to foreign readers is through the SINGLE negative review I received (see Pricajan – The Walpole Moment In Romanian Literature, Nautilus, Shauki, Pest Webzine etc.). To be fair with the foreign readers which cannot read the Romanian reviews, I hope you will allow me to mention a few things related to the problems you saw in the book:
1. There were characters praised by the critics for proper developement, especially the inquisitor, Castlenove, Schwartz and Adrianna de Valois. Arthur was finded undeveloped, but that was my intention from the beginning (the witness character).
2. I find the Arthur’s past essential for explaining the final scene, of course any reader can have his own opinion.
3. I mentioned in the afterword I MIXED some historical periods, so Slovakia is not a problem, but a homage to the beliefs that are still vampires left in Slovakia.
4. The characters are not courting each other… Vincennes courts Josephine, BEFORE arriving at the castle only… Sellini does not court Arthur, she tries to make an alliance with him… Arthur does not court the engaged Adrianna, but he loves her and he is worried for her…in the hole book, there is not a single proposition made, or a single kiss exchanged between the characters…
I hope I have not offended you in any way, I am a big admirer of your work, and I understand a book is not for everyone to like it… It may be I will receive other negative reviews in the future (though I hope not…), but yet is not the case… Of course, the book failed to reach you, and I really regret it, but did not fail to reach others, and I still hope it will reach others more (not everyone of course, unfortunately…)
Thank you again and I wish you the best!

Mihai A. said...

Oliviu, no offence taken and thank you very much for your kind compliments.
I read the other reviews and I am glad that they are positive, I am sorry that your novel didn't work for me. I hope that you'll receive many other positive reviews and you'll reach as many readers as possible.
With all the best, Mihai :)

oliviu craznic said...

Thank you! :)