Thursday, July 5, 2012

Psycho-sexual Ravenloft: Knight of the Black Rose I

The Prologue of James Lowder's Knight of the Black Rose is a back-story avalanche. Of course, the novel has to do something to introduce a well-known character like Lord Soth, but the rapid-fire summation of his career is particularly clumsy as a narrative technique. Still, there are some elements worth picking at here. Soth belonged to an order of goody-two-shoes knights and seems like he was the goodiest-of-two-shoes amongst them. He marries a noblewoman, builds a keep, quests around fighting evil, and basically lives a Dudley Do-Right lifestyle. Until he gets it on with an elf maiden he rescues from some ogres: “Soon after, they became secret lovers, though in doing so Soth broke both his sacred marriage vows and the Code of the Knights of Solamnia.” When the fact of Soth's transgression gets out, he's sentenced to death. Yeah, you read that correctly, the punishment for having a side piece in Krynn is death. Infidelity is literally a capital offense. Holy shitballs, the Dragonlance setting really was created by Mormons!

With the aid of some still-loyal knights, Soth escapes prison and heads back to his keep where he attempts to do the right thing. His wife having disappeared, he marries the elf lady, prepares to raise their child, and prays for guidance from the gods of good. Yet, for some unexplained reason, the other elf women that Soth rescued decide to play some mind games on him: “The elven women he had once rescued now poisoned his mind with intimations of his wife's infidelity.” Those bitches hate the playa, not the game. All of this results in Soth letting his wife and child burn in a fire before his very eyes, his elfbabe honey cursing him with her dying breath, and Soth emerging as an undead monster.

Already I've got grave concerns about where this novel is headed. Whereas Vampire of the Mists turned out to be The Confessions of a Justified Rapist, Knight of the Black Rose is starting out as a whole different kind of psycho-sexual Ravenloft. Where Golden's novel casually dropped squicky sexual descriptions in your lap like some unwanted, spittle-sodden dog's chew-toy, Lowder's fictive universe is one in which sexuality is wrong and must be punished. Hopefully this aspect of the novel is confined to this prologue of inherited Dragonlance drivel, but I don't have high hopes for where this book is about to take me.

...or maybe it will continue the trend already initiated by Vampire of the Mists. You see, much like Jander Sunstar, Soth has plans to re-animate Kitiara as his eternal companion that can only be described as “a bit rape-y” and “kind of necrophiliac-y": “After retreiving her corpse and trapping her soul, Soth planned to abandon the fight and return to Dargaard Keep. In the shelter of that hellish place, he could perform a rite that would make the highlord his un-living companion for all eternity.” Soth apparently isn't the only undead monstrosity that likes Kitiara's bodunkadunk; the deathless guardians of the Tower of High Sorcery seem to have groped her and stripped off her clothes as they killed her: “Her night-blue dragonscale armor had been stripped away by the tower's guardians, and her black, tight-fitting doublet was shredded, revealing her tan beneath.” All the dead guys love her; what a lucky gal!

Besides having literally unnatural designs on Kitiara, Soth can't stand thinking about the fact that Tanis has already tapped that ass; “Tanis had been one of Kitiara's many lovers,” he thinks as he attempts to duel Tanis to the death. We also get a view into the nature of Soth's curse, which turns out to be little more than run-of-the-mill depression: “Yet the death knight felt no joy at that realization; like many emotions, joy was denied him by his curse.” Take some Zoloft and get over it, Soth!