TSR, $4.95, ISBN 1-56076-352-3
Fantasy Horror, 1992
Christie Golden’s Dance of the Dead is set in the world of Ravenloft where evil rules supreme and one has to dig deep to find any goodness or religion. And our heroine Larissa Snowmane is a dancer in a magical riverboat run by her guardian. One day the riverboat is engulfed by a mysterious fog and when the fog clears, they find themselves in Souragne, an island ruled by the undead. Larissa soon finds her friends dying one by one, and worse, her beloved guardian hides a dark secret that could cost them everything. Then there’s a nefarious zombie king Lond who wants to spread his holdings.
Larissa finds herself in a desperate attempt to save herself and her friends, and she is aided by Willen, a good-natured man who isn’t what he seems, a wise old crone, and – surprise – a really dark and dangerous and smoldering Anton Misroi, the powerful Lord of the Dead whose powers are challenged by Lorn.
Larissa is a great heroine. She is a vulnerable woman who has to be strong when she’s the only one left standing to fight Lorn. This woman transforms into a strong-willed emotionally tougher enchantress by the end of her ordeals, and I, for one, feel quite bittersweet about that. Her victory comes with a great cost – her true love – and like Buffy, she has to harden her heart to the pain. I hate this sort of stories, but in a way I embrace them – they move me, make me feel things, and as a result, I feel alive.
And Willen, poor Willen, who is a simple yet brave creature. He’s not human, but a will-o’-the-wisp who gives up his form for that of a human when one time, long ago, a young Larissa danced among the will-o’-the-wisp and one of them fell in love with her. He is actually a secondary player in this story, but his quiet moments with Larissa are heartbreaking. “I’m human enough. My hands are getting callused. I have to eat, to sleep…” he tells Larissa gently when she discovers his real identity. His good-natured amazement at life through human eyes clash marvelously with the overall somber tone of this story, and no wonder Larissa falls for this man. Ironically, as Larissa loses more and more of her innocence, Willen becomes her human half, the one anchor to keep her sane.
Which is why I sob and boo-hoo when their love isn’t meant to be. Ultimately Willen is what he is and Larissa has her own destiny to pursue. In the end, when Larissa dances, tears flowing freely from her eyes as she incinerates Willen’s human form, my heart breaks for them both too. It is a beautiful scene, with Larissa dancing and Willen’s will-o’-the-wisp family flying around them both in a dance of farewell, and Larissa slowly sets Willen’s comatose body on fire. “I love him too,” Larissa whispers to the will-o-the-wisps, and I start bawling. Now it is the time to heal, Larissa thinks, for she has to be strong even though she is bleeding to death inside. “This isn’t fair,” I screamed at the book in my mind. I had to keep reminding myself this book is only a book.
After I finished crying and ran out of Kleenex, I also noticed that for a character that appears in only three chapters, the dashing, pure evil, and pure temptation incarnate Anton Misroi leaves a lot of impact on my imagination. Ooh, nothing is more sexier than a really bad boy, and Anton is everything Mom and your friendly parish priest warn every woman to stay away from. Anton must be the reason why chastity belts are created. All the more power for Larissa for standing up to him, intriguing him, and earning his respect and reluctant fascination-admiration. Demonic guys like Misroi need a woman like Larissa to keep them in line. Is there a book about Misroi?
Oh yes, the dance. That’s one thing I find delightful – Larissa’s magic is all in her dancing. The contradiction of the beauty of dance as an instrument of destruction is amazing. Anton Misroi teaches Larissa the Dance of the Dead, the only magic that can destroy the plague of undead threatening Larissa and her friends. Actually, by teaching her the Dance, Misroi is effectively making her his most powerful enemy. A case of strange bedfellows, eh? But it does set the stage for some really interesting future conflicts. Again, I’m going to pester my grandson for information. He would think his granny had gone loony.
Dance, tragedy, romance, and a tough heroine who still retains her humanity. Well, I guess it’s pretty redundant to say this book is a keeper. A great one.