The Silver Devil - Teresa Denys UPDATED REVIEW

Romance Is Horror! just as the little voice in the back of my head has often whispered to me during various awkward moments.

The Silver Devil is an historical romance with a twist. the twist: i loved it. the feverishly sweaty and grotesque atmosphere, the constant viciousness and savagery, the insanely operatic characters... incredible. and, surprise, the writing is highly accomplished. overall it was fascinating. the whole thing was so luridly gothic an experience that at times it became hard for me to wrap my mind around. in a good way!

okay i've read more about bodice rippers than actually experienced them. i understand that brutish man-boys are the standard. that women often fall into two categories: inexplicably independent (for the historical time period depicted) or - in the case of the The Silver Devil - virginal proto-nuns. this novel pitches these two archetypes of Man & Woman so beyond that template that the effect is genuinely surreal. the brutality and rapiness was extreme. normally this is something that would upset me. and yet... and yet... everything came together in such an intense fashion that i began to see it as an un-romance. a kind of extreme-relationship novel with a hair-raisingly demanding dom and a heroine who is so deranged in her passivity that she comes across as the ultimate subjugate-me-please sub. but in the end it was as i mentioned at the start: A Tale of Horror. that was really the only way i could take this seriously - and because of the strength of the writing, i did take it seriously. i did not read this with a droll sense of irony because this shit is good, man. the intensity sort of made me feel high at times.

the heroine is a young, sheltered, abused naif. and yet a glass-half-full sorta gal. so devoid of all maliciousness or need for revenge that she basically comes across as a severely developmentally disabled girl-woman. she moved from being a sad character to a pathetic character to a character who attained a bizarre transcendence in the extremity of her submissiveness. she is Pure Victim. and the genuine horror of her story is her unexplainable love for the worst, most evil hero i've come across since i don't know when. it is like she was hypnotized by a devil. The Silver Devil! once i began to see this as a story of extreme psychological terror and so rejected it as a romance, it really came together for me in a way i did not expect. i was on the edge of my seat constantly, just waiting for the next hellish trial that she would be put through. her terrorized first-person perspective on the world around her only strengthened the horror of it all. this is a deeply realized historical novel with a consistently grim tone. one that describes terrible smells of rot and death as a constant, castles as places of nightmare, appealing rascally types who turn around and laughingly engage in gang rape, sybaritic aristocrats who cover their faces in dead-white make-up as if they are miming the undead, irrational rulers who view their people as slaves to be used and killed, unending misogyny, devious deviants who love incest and pederasty, the works. this is a world of abominations and it is all brilliantly described as a genuine living hell.

ah, romance! ah, horror!

the hero is something else. and to me, entirely unattractive - and so the horror remained constant. this was not a remotely arousing novel and yet i was enthralled by the excessive perversity on display. it was easy to never sympathize with the twisted, sickening hero (just as it was easy to long for his punishment and demise) because the author portrays him as evil incarnate... he bullies and terrorizes and rapes and beats the heroine FROM BEGINNING TO END. all that plus he mocks and laughs at her on a regular basis too, exulting in her pain and the bruises he inflicts upon her. again, not romance: horror. imagine a Rupert Everett type (except with silver hair, 'natch): bisexual, mordantly witty, high-handed, suave, always fashionable, always cutting. now combine him with an emo thug from the hbo series Oz who goes violently berserk and throws insane tantrums on a daily basis, tortures people who look at his girl the wrong way, lives to inspire fear, and gets a boner over every one of his disgustingly callous, meaninglessly mean-spirited acts... imagine a petulant man-child who sets dogs on his oldest friend and former lover, and who in turn is depicted as either a kind of unreasoning, ravening dog himself or even more frequently, as a smug and self-satisfied cat who sharpens his claws on human mice... hey, that's our hero. or our villain. he stays this way FROM BEGINNING TO END. if you read this one, you are entitled to that warning. and this one too: this novel has a happy ending. a happy ending where he is not redeemed in any way except he has finally been able to declare his love. Teresa Denys stays completely true to her hellish vision of the time period, her beyond-repulsive characters, her version of "love". there is an admirable and rather fiendish purity to that.

so yeah, i loved this one. but it wasn't just the Ken Russell level of grotesque abandon that won me over. the writing was lush and beautiful, yet remarkably free of sentiment and consistently invested in showing life as one diabolic tableau after another. Teresa Denys has an uncompromisingly bleak world view. this is a dark, dark book. love as a trap for fools and villains. life as death. ah, romance! ah, horror!
"The darkness seemed to breathe, pressing down on me like a hot, thick blanket. Here and there were gleams of light from the last embers of the torches, and the blackness was peopled by innumerable small sounds. Sighs of lassitude, stertorous breathing, the rustle of garments and the kiss of flesh, quietening into a silence of exhaustion; the court's lust had spent itself in one hectic surge, and soon would come the bitter aftermath. I sat staring into space, seeing in the darkness pictures of the gluttony and debauchery to which fear of tomorrow had spurred the Cabrian nobles. The masque of the Seven Deadly Sins played before our faces, sung and chanted, with servants of each Sin's train engulfing the whole hall in a miasma of vivid colour: the spilling dishes, the flowing wine, the sighs and screams of the court as the torches were doused one by one."

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥


'tis the season...


oh my God, what the fuck! i'm not sure i've read anything like this before. sweet Jesus this was crazy. so i think i have finally gotten the appeal of bodice rippers, thanks Teresa Denys. this was an intensely sadistic and violent gothic, and hey, i love that. IT THROBS. "romance" as straight up horror. and the writing was excellent. i need to think about this one a little bit more before i write a review because right now i feel like i'm having ptsd from some kind of violent assault. but for now here are some things to illustrate my broken mind after having read this nightmare: