Wizards of the Coast, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-7869-5068-3
Fantasy Horror, 2008
Mithras Court is the second and most likely the last book in the new Ravenloft line from Wizards of the Coast. It’s a pity that the line has to end with this book because, yikes, it is everything a solid horror fantasy story should not be. I really like the original Ravenloft line as well as the previous book in this new line, Samantha Henderson’s Heaven’s Bones, so it’s very disappointing to see the line end with a whimper like this.
On the bright side, this book is more in keeping with the old second and third edition version of the Ravenloft world so purists may like this one. I actually have no problems with both the old Ravenloft and the fourth edition merging of Ravenloft into Shadowfell so the setting isn’t an issue with me personally. But first, let’s discuss the story.
Set in London in the year 1892, we meet Lewis Wentworth, a former military man who is currently consumed by thoughts of avenging the death of his wife Elise. Based on a loose account that the killer sported a snake tattoo on his hand, Lewis boards the same train, the one where his wife was killed, every day until one fine day, he chances upon the killer. He botches his chance at killing that fellow – the first in what will be a defined pattern of behavior of the main characters in this story – but before the day is over, he and the fellow passengers in that particular carriage find themselves transported to a strange new place when they disembark.
The place looks like a typical part of London town, but Mithras Court is not your average part of town. Within minutes, zombies emerge out of the darkness for their happy hour buffet, leaving Lewis and a bunch of survivors scrambling for safety. They soon learn that Mithras Court used to be part of London, but a few decades ago the mysterious Mists have enveloped the place, preventing anyone from leaving and cutting the terrified locals off from the rest of the world. Also, the concept of night and day does not operate the same way as it does on Earth. The only certainty is that when darkness falls, it’s best to rush for cover and barricade the doors for the living dead will be rising to feed… Perhaps the key to escaping Mithras Court lies with the mysterious darklord of this domain, Lucius Knight, whom the locals are so terrified of.
Sounds good, doesn’t it, the plot? Indeed, the concept of the story, while not being the most original one around, is a sound and interesting one. While Mithras Court is probably redundant as a domain since we already have a Victorian domain in Paridon and lots of living dead shambling around doing the Monster Mash from classic Darkon to the latest domain of dread at the time of writing, Sunderheart, the setting is great for a steampunk horror romp.
Unfortunately, the cast of characters aren’t just standard horror movie clichés from the ridiculous religious zealot to the self-important blowhard, these people can be counted to do every stupid thing in the book. Whenever things get too hot for comfort, you can always rely on one of them to pull a very stupid stunt that will end up killing an innocent bystander. From going crazy and emptying an entire magazine of bullets into shadows to running toward monsters for reasons too stupid to even think about, these people happily go about making my blood boil. It is as if I’m the one these people are trying to kill at the end of the day. It gets to a point where my singular reaction as I turn the pages is to wonder when these stupid people are all going to die. This is a very long story, so damn it, these imbeciles – those who are clearly marked for death the moment they are introduced – take way too long to die for my liking. When they finally die, I feel no satisfaction because, come on, these people are too stupid to live so it’s not as if these imbeciles becoming zombie chow is anything to be happy about. In fact, it’s probably not healthy for those zombies to feed on so much stupidity.
And don’t get me started on Lewis. This is one of the most whiny and inept buffoons I have ever come across. I don’t care if Lewis is a moron by design, I really have a horrible time following him around Mithras Court as he is just hopeless. Even his love for Elise is creepy as he is obsessed about her youth (he’s much older than his wife), her innocence, and her purity.
I also am not too fond of Mr Page’s choice of descriptive phrases in this story. He uses way too many lazy shortcut phrases that does nothing to pull me into a scene. Lazy phrases like “raven hair” and “evil smile” litter the stories, and sadly, things rarely become more descriptive than that. Since this is a horror story, it is important that Mr Page uses powerfully evocative descriptions to pull me into the scene. But alas, instead of, for example, letting me “see”, “smell”, and fear the zombies, he resorts to telling me how the zombies’ eyes “burned” with “pure hatred”. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I’m confronted with a zombie, the last thing I’d be doing is to try to look at it in the eyes. How about describing in more detail the scent of rotting flesh, the cold and clammy touch, or… I don’t know, something that isn’t as tired, insipid, and clichéd as “eyes burning with pure hatred”? Don’t get me started with the big bad “red-eyed creature” (very descriptive indeed, I tell you) that haunts Lewis’s dreams while he is at Mithras Court. The sense of place and the atmosphere are all sorely lacking here.
As a fan of horror fantasy and the Ravenloft setting, I bought Mithras Court fully wanting to enjoy it. Unfortunately, what I get instead is uninspiring prose and plenty of imbeciles running around doing things that make me want to pull at my hair and scream. The promising domain is completely wasted by really poor execution. All I can say at the end of the day is to buy this only if you want to complete your collection. Otherwise, go read Samantha Henderson’s Heaven’s Bones. That one succeeded very well in doing what this one aspired to do and then some.