10 July 2007

The Music of Razors by Cameron Rogers

a guest review by Craig L. Gidney

Angels, fallen and otherwise, are making a bit of a resurrection in fiction. One can look to such treatments of the angelic mythos as Storm Constantine’s Grigori trilogy, which imagines the Nephelim as sexy outsiders, or The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox, where the fallen angel was a melancholic muse to the eponymous vintner. Fallen angels are a way to explore the mystical and mythic underpinnings of religion. The angels in these books are not evil in the traditional, villainous sense. Rather, they are tragic iconoclasts who challenge the heavenly status quo. Cameron Rogers’ novel The Music of Razors adds to the new wave angelic canon that includes Hal Duncan, Philip Pullman, as well as Knox and Constantine.

The Music of Razors is a contemporary gothic fantasy with historic and mythological back stories. The brief prologue sets the stage. A fallen angel murders another angel, then creates magical instruments with its bones:
From those bones the angel fashioned instruments approximating its own power....Mercurial and undying, the living bone was bestowed with aspects of the angel’s own function....It then scattered these instruments across the Earth...
The novel is about those who search and are affected by these mysterious instruments. We meet Henry, an alcoholic drop out, would-be surgeon, and murderer in late 1800s Boston. He joins a group of occultists and together they summon a forgotten angelic being who knows the whereabouts of the instruments. This has disastrous results, and Henry finds the course of his life forever altered by the encounter.

A second contemporary storyline concerns Walter, a 4 year old in England, who is terrorized by a closet monster. He makes a decision that casts him out this world and into a nether region presided over by Henry and his dark sorcery, while his body lays in a comatose state for 20 years. Walter must somehow protect his little sister Hope (who grows from imaginative child to sullen, gothy teen in the course of the narrative) from Henry through dreams.

Rogers has other storylines in the novel that are intriguing, but they are quickly (and often inexplicably) abandoned. The daughter of Henry’s rival occult has a brief appearance that features Rogers’ most interesting creation: the clockwork ballerina Nimble and her companion Tug, an ogre. These scenes, full of sinister beauty, are not given full development. Hope’s childhood friend (and lover) Sunni also has a skeletal storyline that is abruptly dropped.

The Music of Razors walks a delicate tightrope between moody horror and angst-ridden coming of age. It doesn’t always come together. Hope and Sunni’s tumultuous affair can stray into Dawson’s Creek existential teen drama. Rogers’ mythology shows real originality, but is often too esoteric for its own good. A fascinating back mythology of the angels, fallen and otherwise, is hinted at, but never developed. He also has a habit of revealing crucial character history late in the story, when it would have been more effective had it been introduced earlier. The novel has the disjointed feel of being a "fixup" book. The storylines presented here seem like orphans, all packaged together. One gets the sense that there is at least an entire novel’s worth of material that was scrapped and reshaped to form this book.

Despite these significant flaws, The Music of Razors is an arresting tale. The amoral aspects of fallen angels are beautifully rendered, and Rogers’ imagery is hypnotic and unsettling:
Something clicks, inside the dancer....The three-ring sphere in which the ballerina’s box-heart is housed begins to slowly and comprehensively spin, building speed, faster and faster, until light begins to creep up from the box. It is now a silver spheroid blur, growing brighter by degrees, and as that first scintilla of light makes itself known, so do other soft sounds come from elsewhere inside the ballerina: her joints, her fingers, the ball of her neck. As the light becomes a soft and constant glow—all of the quiet, tiny parts within her coming to life—her face slowly rises.
It is in scenes like these throughout the book that Rogers’ talent shows itself. His fevered, hallucinogenic prose is easily the equal of Caitlin R. Kiernan’s. Like Kiernan, Rogers is creating a hybrid genre—not quite horror, not quite fantasy—full of beauty and terror. It will be interesting to see how he develops as a novelist.