recent death, alas, that made me realize I needed to do that now, and so I picked up Dark Dance, the only book of hers I own, published by Dell as a title in their ground-breaking Abyss line. Like many novels from Dell/Abyss, it isn't only/just/quite a horror novel. Nothing is scary, or even meant to scare, but there is foreboding and threat, a gloomy old house near a cliff-side overlooking the sea, a secret family made of members of indeterminable age clad in black, and the promise of illicit pleasures. We are in Gothic romance territory here, as will become clear early on.
Warner Books UK, Feb 1993
Removed from the world at large, the family's only contact a hired driver, with rare trips into a desultory village some miles' walk away for supplies, Rachaela spends malingering days and nights in the home. The reader feels the claustrophobia of the Scarabae estate, its bizarre stained glass windows and winding halls, locked doors and silent inhabitants. She hears snippets of the family history: superstition, outcast, pogroms, escape, told in hundreds of years. Vampires? Perhaps. She learns her father is called Adamus and he lives in the tower (of course!) but he comes and goes as he pleases, a mystery almost even to the others. He seems to spy on her in the night, accompanied by an enormous black cat. When she finally confronts Adamus, it goes about as well as expected:
"You dropped me like a lost coin. Less than that."
"I meant to make you. I tried with many women. The Scarabae seed is reluctant. It inbreeds better. But your stupid and soulless mother had, surprisingly, the correct ingredients to accommodate me..."
"All her life she hated you and what you'd done. She made me pay for you."
"Yes, I want to fuck you. Come back and be fucked by me."
"Now you're speaking the truth, you bastard."
"Now I'm speaking the truth. What's the problem? The family will be thrilled. They'll revel in it. It's happened over and over, mother with son, father with daughter. Brother and sister. Two-thirds of them are inbreedings of one kind or another, several twice over. A charming little intimate orgy has been going on for centuries. Secret pleasures of the house. And what other values hold you back? The criterion of the church, of morality and the world? It's nothing to you. Come to me and let me give you what you want."
If you're in the mood for a kinda slow, moody, insular novel with sharp tinges of the Gothic but no horror to speak of, told in a style that's perceptive and sensual, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Dark Dance. Vampires? One never knows for certain. But one thing is: I will definitely be reading more Tanith Lee.