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The Stress of Her Regard - Tim Powers
”Quaff while thou canst: another race,
When thou and thine, like me, are sped,
May rescue thee from Earth’s embrace,
And rhyme and revel with the dead.
-Lord Byron
“Lines Inscribed upon
a Cup Formed
from a Skull”

Anybody who has spent any time in an English Literature department at a University will find that even though the centennial of Lord Byron’s death is fast approached women still find him fascinating and men still attempt to emulate him.

Lord Byron, those curls made women swoon.

He was the quintessential bad boy; rebelling against....well what have you got; drinking copious amounts of alcohol; sleeping with whoever took his fancy...married, young, old, sister; he was athletic renown for his talent for swimming and boxing; he was a man untethered by the normal restraints of a man of his generation or for that matter any generation. Scandal followed him everywhere he went or finally caught up with him when he paused long enough for rumor to arrive. It is so funny to think of those Yale boys in the Skull and Bones club drinking from a skull cup imagining that they are Lord Byron even though all of them lack the imagination or the audacity to ever be as larger than life than the 5’8” club footed Bryon. Walking with a limp might have held some men back, but it only added to Byron’s mystic.

”In the wind there is a voice
Shall forbid thee to rejoice;
And to thee shall Night deny
All the quiet of her sky;
And the day shall have a sun,
Which shall make thee wish it done.
-Lord Bryon, Manfred

There is a reason why Byron is on the run. He is being pursued, hounded, chased from one great city to the next by a race of beings as old as the earth that he refers to as the Nephilim which means “to fall” or “to cause to fall”. [a:John Keats|11978|John Keats|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1198548090p2/11978.jpg] and [a:Percy Bysshe Shelley|45882|Percy Bysshe Shelley|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1212686605p2/45882.jpg] are also fleeing the same creatures. One benefit of being under of the spell of the creatures is the whispered words from their lips that put poetry in the minds of the men.

Because of numerous ailments brought on by a combination of genetics and hard living, Byron traveled with a personal physician named [a:John William Polidori|26932|John William Polidori|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1206804357p2/26932.jpg]. A doctor who dreams of being a poet and believes by being around Byron and his circle of talented writers that some of their talent will rub off on him. He was present on that famous evening in 1816 when Byron challenged the group to write ghost stories. The most famous document to emerge from that evening was [a:Mary Shelley|11139|Mary Shelley|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1205347203p2/11139.jpg]'s book [b:Frankenstein|18490|Frankenstein|Mary Shelley|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1311647465s/18490.jpg|4836639], but Polidori also made a contribution to literature from that challenge publishing the first vampire story published in English [b:The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre|472968|The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre|John William Polidori|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1175045689s/472968.jpg|461236].

Doctor Polidori a man intent on learning the secret of poetry at any cost.

Our story really begins with Dr. Michael Crawford, a man on the verge of pulling his life back together. He is to be married to the fair Julie and having one disastrous marriage on his resume he is determined to make sure this one is successful. The night before the nuptials he is in an inn accompanied by his best man. They are flirting with serving wenches and drinking too much as seems to be the practice of many men the day before they get married. In the course of helping his friend back inside the inn after a drunken sprawl in the courtyard Crawford places the ring intended for his beloved on the finger of a statue to keep it safe. When he returns to retrieve the ring the hand of the statue has closed and despite his best efforts he can not pry the fingers apart to repossess the ring. Little does he know that a pact has been made and now he is a target for the same creatures pursuing Byron.

”But the worm shall revive thee with kisses,
Thous shalt change and transmute as a god
As the rod to a serpent that hisses,
As the serpent again to a rod.
They life shall not cease though thou doff it;
Thou shalt live until evil be slain,
And good shall die first, said they prophet,
Our Lady of Pain.
-A. C. Swinburne, Dolores

So what do these creatures look like?

”Tonight she seemed to come in as a mist between the casements, but she was in her human form by the time he looked fully at her. She was naked, as always before, and he was so dazzled by the sight of her that he hardly noticed her arm snake out and turn his shaving mirror to face the wall. When her white fingers reached out and unbuttoned his shirt, and his lungs seemed to clog full with ice when her cold nipples pressed against his chest. He fell backwards onto the bed and she followed and straddled him.... Now she went down to give him a passionate kiss--her hair fell in coils around his ears, and he abandoned himself to her.

Her flesh warmed around him as the hours were achingly chiselled away, and when at last she rose from the bed she was actually glowing faintly, like the bricks lining a smithy’s stove.She leaned down and took his limp hand as if to kiss it, but when she lifted it to her lips it was only to bite the stump of his missing finger. The blood spurted rackingly into her mouth, and the strained bed-joints squealed as he convulsed into unconsciousness.


”The thing was clinging upside down to the trunk, its projecting snout only a few feet above his face. It had no eyes, nor even eye sockets, and its corrugated gray hide and anvil-shaped face were anything but mobile, but he could tell that he had excited its profoundest attention. a mouth opened under the snout, exposing teeth like petrified plates of tree fungus, and the creature began to stretch its neck downward.”

They can also become a winged serpent. ”It curled heavily in the air, its metallic-looking scales glittering in the torchlight. Its long snout opened, showing a white brush of teeth.

Polidori despondent about his inability to be a great poet, beset with debts and depression commits suicide giving himself over to the Nephilim. They can assume any form to inspire fear or lust in the individuals they are pursuing. The resurrected Polidori, a form now favored by the Nephilim, is intent not only in controlling the poets, but also killing their wives, sisters, children removing any obstacles from complete devotion from their subjects. They are almost impossible to kill and Byron, Crawford, Shelley, and Keats find themselves in a desperate battle to break their connection with the creatures before everyone they love is destroyed.

”Crawford was holding the jar of Byron’s blood in one hand and Shelley’s charred, paper-wrapped heart in the other. The poets return, he thought nervously.”

Tim Powers is so imaginative and always pushes the boundaries with soaring ideas and brain warping strange concoctions of speculative prose. He took the tragic lives of these romantic poets and plausibly creates a world where an ancient race of vampires are the source of their talent, and how the strength of this stalwart band of poets to resist these necrophiliac muses leads to their premature deaths. If their poetry seems otherworldly you might come away believing some of this tale to be true.

Tim Powers

Tim Powers is the only writer I know that signs his books upside down. He must be different in all things he does.
Tim Powers signed this book for me and even sketched a face because he is just that damn cool.