Dani Zweig's Belated Reviews : archive

Standard introduction for Postscripts to the Belated Reviews

Belated Reviews PS#4: Cristabel

I'm going to take time out from reviewing Great SF to haul out a justly obscure sentimental favorite. Cristabel (one of her books has Christine Abrahamsen listed on the copyright, so I assume that's her real name) wrote four books which owed a lot more to the romance genre than to sf/f. They're not very good, by any reasoned measure -- and I loved reading them. As best I can tell, she wrote these four books around 1970, each saw a single printing, and then she stopped writing. They should appeal to readers who sometimes enjoy a well written bad romance novel -- the sort which is the distillation of long daydreams.

I'm not sure what the setting is supposed to be for "The Cruachan and the Killane" (***?). The cover blurb claims that it's "1000 years in the future", but the text itself is silent on whether the action takes place on a future Earth or another world. If it is the future, it's a strange one, as the technology is purely 20th century -- though there are mystical forces active in the background, as well as the odd starship.

(I honestly have never been able to figure out whether any interstellar travel is taking place or whether everything is happening on a single planet, or whether Cristabel is simply unclear on whether one travels from one planet to another by spaceship, airplane, or submarine. "The Cruachan and the Killane" has a picture of a man in a spacesuit on the cover, but that has nothing whatever to do with the story. It's just the way the publisher (Curtis) chose to tell the audience that this is supposed to be a science fiction book.)

This review took absurdly long to write, because I was unable to come up with plot summaries that aren't facetious and ridiculous. I'm not sure it can be done. Cristabel's typical formula involves the hero and the heroine meeting in the first chapter or two, in a land under some imminent threat, and immediately falling in love. They then proceed to combat said threat, in the course of which the heroine typically needs to be rescued a coupleof times. And if worse comes to worst, there's some supernatural or mystical intervention, to make sure the course of true love runs smooth. How is one to recount such a plot with a straight face? I'll just have to give you my word that I had a lot of fun reading these books.

"The Cruachan and the Killane" starts off with a bang -- as a bomb aboard a passenger plane sends it crashing into the sea. Nora, the heroine, survives the crash, and so does a message given to her by a poisoned courier. She is rescued from a watery grave by Jaime Killane (captain of the Cruachan), who is, of course, the hero. Piecing together subtle clues (eg, the poison, the bomb), they conclude that something's wrong, and head the Cruachan for the mystical island of Veltakin, where trusted help can be found. On Veltakin the courier's message is decoded and, Sure Enough, There's Dirty Work Afoot: A large conspiracy of villains is conspiring to commit villainy. The rest of the book is devoted to taking care of said viallains before the villains take care of them.

On and on she went until, at last, exhausted, she was about to turn back when the low, sleek, gray shape appeared out of the sea below her. With hope born of desperation, Nora stood on the deck and searched for the mind that ran this ship. With unerring instinct she went forward, down the steps, along the passageways and into the Commander's room...

"Manalacor of Veltakin" (***?) is the prequel to "The Cruachan and theKillane". (Or maybe TCatK is the sequel. They were published almost simultaneously. I read MoV second, so I think of it as prequel.) Veltakin itself is an island, vaguely Hawaiian in feel, though it's located just off the coast of the continent, and is the focus of numerous prophecies and legends. It's also surprisingly well armed, as one of the legends states that the mainland can't be conquered as long as the island is free. When a would-be conqueror threatens the island, a small contingent of soldiers, led by Jois Storm (who is a minor character in the other book) comes to protect it. There he meets Tikke, one of the islanders, and, for the rest, see the GCPS (generic Cristabel plot summary).

Too experienced to be taken in by her artifices, he had, nevertheless, played along with her until he could place her in his mental map of places, people, and things important to his job of protecting the Island. He had no doubt that she fit somewhere in that map. She really had a lovely and charming way about her, and he hoped that she was not a spot that would have to be erased.

"The Mortal Immortals" (***?) (which I've only seen in hardcover) comes closest to being pure romance. This being Cristabel, that means a combination of Gothic, fantasy, and just a touch of sf. It takes place in Cordelion, a country which might as well be Scotland, in a time when clans wielded much more power, except that technology and weaponry are at about modern levels. (I respect the latter: It's hard to write this sort of novel without finding some far-fetched reason for your characters to carry swords.) The king of Cordelion has just died, and the country is in turmoil, with multiple factions -- at home and abroad -- vying for power. Into this mess comes Killy Legrange, a foreigner who finds herself surprisingly at home in this country, and swiftly finds herself involved in it struggle. Fortunately, she has the help of a bevy of ancestral ghosts, who are as determined as Killy to see a happy ending to the affair. Two of those ghosts are dead ringers for Killy and for Shannon, the love interest.

Angus and Essie, in bemused wonder, had seen the face emerge from the rainhood, and with one accord had swung their gaze to a portrait near the head of the stairs. As they watched in fascinated silence, a pictured materialized out of the air and slid slowly into the frame over the portrait. When the motion ceased, a man's face peered out of the frame where a woman's had formerly reposed.

There was a fourth book, "The Golden Olive" (*?). It's by far theweakest of the batch and, wouldn't you know it, the only one of Cristabel's books that's relatively easy to find on used-book shelves. If you've never read her books, don't start with this one. Again, if you like the occasional well-written bad romance, the sort where the plot doesn't hold a great deal of water but the writing pulls at all the right emotional strings and wish-fullfillment fantasies, you may have fun with these books. If not, give it a miss.

Dani Zweig