First Real Review!
BOOK REVIEW: “Orpheus and The Pearl”
By Gabrielle S. Faust
My first encounter with Kim Paffenroth’s work was early last year when I was asked to review his post-apocalyptic zombie novel Dying to Live. Up until that point, I had never been a tremendous fan of the zombie genre, or at least, so I had thought. However, I was so enthralled by the world Paffenroth painted in Dying to Live that I suddenly found myself devouring every zombie novel I could get my hands on, and all thanks to Paffenroth’s brilliant storytelling abilities and his innate ability to blend horror with philosophy. A professor of religious studies, a Bram Stoker Award Winner for his book Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero’s Visions of Hell on Earth (Baylor, 2006) and the author of several books on the Bible and theology, Paffenroth constructs his writing with a certain elegant sophistication and literary intelligence which is often painfully absent in many modern works of literature. No matter whether he is slaying zombies in a grim and terrifying post-apocalyptic world or pondering the disturbing philosophical and spiritual ramifications of reanimation, as in Orpheus and the Pearl, Paffenroth manages to transcend the stereotypical, and often self-inflicted, boundaries of the horror genre which often restrain an author from exploring the extent of their writing abilities. Along with the pure inspiration of the tales he weaves, his range as an author is one of the many exciting aspects of his work, one that keeps you wondering just what he will come up with next.
When I first heard that Magus Press was sending me one of the limited edition copies of Orpheus and the Pearl, I was instantly intrigued by the title. Orpheus, one of the most famous figures of ancient Greek mythology, was one of the chief poets and musicians of antiquity and the inventor of the lyre. Through music and singing, it was said that he could charm wild animals and coax the very trees and rocks to dance for him. Orpheus was married to the beautiful Eurydice. One day, while fleeing from Aristaeus, the son of Apollo, Eurydice stepped into a pit of snakes and was fatally bitten. So consumed by pain of his loss, Orpheus played such sorrowful songs upon his lyre that even the hearts of Hades and Persephone were softened. Hades and Persephone gave Orpheus a chance to leave with Eurydice. The only catch was that Orpheus must walk ahead of his wife and not look back until both had arrived safely in the upper world. So full of happiness upon reaching the upper world, Orpheus turned around too soon, forgetting that they both had to be out of the Underworld, and Eurydice vanished forever.
With this Greek tragedy as a reference, I could only imagine what unique interpretation Paffenroth would sculpt for his readers. I was utterly delighted when, once again, I was swept up into a chill, gothic world, but this time in the eloquent Victorian macabre vein. In the style of Dracula or Frankenstein, Orpheus and the Pearl transports the reader instantly into a world of severe taboos and social restraints, where medicine and psychology are still, in large part, unexplored territories and the very human psyche the vault of the darkest horrors. This new tale of a doctor desperate to save the wife he has resurrected from the dead, is captivating, drawing you in and refusing to release you until the final page has been turned. Truly, I must say, Orpheus and the Pearl will go down as one of the great works of short horror fiction. Another fantastic achievement for author Kim Paffenroth.