When the dead battle the dead, as they do in this extravagant dark fantasy novel, overkill is to be expected. Virtually every scene in Cisco's (The Divinity Student ) intensely surreal opus runs too long or bogs down in meandering details. The slender plot follows the career path of Ella, a 15-year-old medical prodigy and ectoplasm specialist. Her work has earned her a position with Dr. Belhoria, a scientist in the Frankenstein mold whose latest project is "Mr. Bathyscape," a bizarre patient encased in a block of gelatin. Despite being semi-comatose, Bathyscape possesses "superabundant vitality" that makes him an ideal spirit medium. Dispatched on an exploratory mission to the underworld, his spiritual self is appropriated by a malignant entity called the Tyrant, who uses it to resurrect an army of dead souls that storms Heaven and Hell. Cisco sustains a mood of dreamy mystery for the novel's duration that makes even the ordinary minutiae of his characters' lives seem eerie by association. Ultimately, though, the barrage of grotesque imagery and baroque set pieces that fuel it becomes numbing and repetitive. There may not be another deathscape so powerfully or poetically envisioned in this year's fantasy fiction, but readers may feel that this narrative would have worked better as a novella or poem. (Jan.)
FYI: Cisco's last novel, The Divinity Student, won the 2000 International Horror Guild Award for best first novel.
Release date: 10/01/2003