Thursday, October 4, 2012

Psycho-sexual Ravenloft: Dance of the Dead I

Last week somebody ended-up on my blog after searching for "funny Ravenloft stories." Welp, here you go.  Laugh until you cry, friends.

Since it's the Halloween season, it's only fitting that October sees the return of the Psycho-sexual Ravenloft series. If this is your first time at the rodeo, the premise is simple: I read one of the official Ravenloft novels from back in the '90s, post about all the weird and yucky sex bits that lurk under the book's otherwise banal surface, and you all get a good laugh at my pain as I slog through this underwhelming sequence of tie-in novels.

Next up is Christie Golden's Dance of the Dead. Oh god, not another Golden novel so soon. I wonder if that guy who had a meltdown the last time I dared besmirch Golden's literary status is reading; are you still out there, buddy? I digress.

I'm actually a bit surprised to find myself saying this, but...Dance of the Dead seems to be an order of magnitude better than Vampire in the Mists. Perhaps I've been brain damaged by the first two Ravenloft books I've read as part of this project, but I'm willing to hazard a guess that freed from the tyranny of having to write about Jander and Strahd has enabled Golden to get an actual plot in motion and to create some characters who are human enough to be at least slightly compelling. The set-up of Dance of the Dead is actually interesting; the novel follows the exploits of a traveling showboat that docks in various domains in Ravenloft and puts on a magic-powered cabaret for the downtrodden denizens of the Demi-plane of Dread. Of course, things go awry and the performing troupe find their boat arriving at Souragne, Ravenloft's Louisiana cum Haiti zombieland pastiche.

Of course, this is a Golden novel, so we're not going to escape having to read about a bunch of rapey male characters. In fact, we get our first abusive guy on the second page of the novel when we're introduced to Sardan, an actor who likes to make the leading woman in the troupe's play sexually uncomfortable: “it was well-known that Liza couldn't stand Sardan. As a result, Sardan made it a point to turn every onstage kiss into a passionate one, taking a devilish glee in the fact that Liza had to pretend to enjoy it.” Yep, we're back in Ravenloft all right.

And back in Ravenloft we are indeed, as we're next introduced to the disturbing relationship between our heroine, the white-maned Larissa, and Raoul, her guardian and the captain of the showboat. From the way Raoul is initially described, it's clear that we're meant to take him as a figure of sexual power. “He was big in more than a physical sense,” the narration winks at us and lolls its tongue lasciviously. Furthermore, we're treated to the “flash of his sea-green eyes, the tightening of his sensual mouth, the clenching of his powerful, callused hands.” Since he's such an obviously virile specimen of manhood, it seems only natural that Larissa would want to ride him like a Shetland pony, but you know what turns it from bodice-ripper to stomach-churner? The fact that she calls him “Uncle” throughout the first third of the novel.