Khepera Rising by Nerine Dorman was published by Lyrical Press in December 2009. The sequel, Khepera Redeemed was released in June 2010. Published as urban fantasy, it would more aptly be classified as horror.
It is an incendiary work of black magic that will leave kindergoths wide-eyed.
Occultist James Edward Guillaume enjoys living up to his reputation as South Africa’s wickedest man, but in so doing, he becomes a target for those who believe his esoteric arts and alternative lifestyle are the work of the devil and should be punished.
The author displays an accomplished style that gives me confidence to follow her into the dark. The protagonist, Jamie, offers a distinctive shock-rocker view of the world with a unique perspective on our so-ordinary lives. The story is an introduction to a ragged slice of Goth culture in Cape Town. The detailing is convincing – references to esoteric texts, drug culture and rituals that speak of experience or such good research that it is indistinguishable from it. But the book comes with a warning: M/M and M/F sexual content, occult, violence, gore. You’d best avoid it if you find smears of prejudice, graphic violence and conversations peppered with vile expletives offensive. I’d never have expected a woman to have written this … but I suspect that she is more fire and demon, with an undeniable knack for finding soft places with her claws.
In terms of setting a mood of eerie loneliness and ruin in modern-day suburbia, Kephera Rising is a complete success: Jamie’s life is a tragedy, the suffering graphic, the grimness unrelenting and some of the first-person writing is superb: ‘a smile fakes its way across my face and a cold sweat starts beneath my armpits. Hollow eyes glance at me from the mirror above the fireplace.’ Jamie is suitably tormented by his lack of evil intent and vacillation in the face of his growing dilemma. The detailing of Cape Town is convincing and the dark underbelly of the city disturbing in its believability. This is where Dorman’s alter-ego as a travel writer shines through. You’ll also have ringside seats for some blinding action scenes.
There are occasional dead points in the plot: making his tormentors as flawed as Jamie is quite plausible but seems too convenient. Jamie is a bit of a wet regarding his emotional problems, but the relationship with his girlfriend is ambiguous enough to keep us guessing, with twists and turns, tensioning and reversals. And he is a bit too dim-witted regarding his shocking hidden talent.
The way his world falls to pieces is expertly crafted and it shows up his narcissistic life as a reclusive magician. It must be said, however, that it is hard to care for a man who cusses the world and everyone in it, and unless you find the details of esoteric practices irresistible then only curiosity and an appreciation of the brooding atmosphere can pull you into the dark heart of the story. He doesn’t do much to help anyone but himself as he tries to survive his persecutors and the effects of his own emotional baggage, but the story (strapped to a chair with packing tape) is kept artfully alive by the ongoing character development and the incisive philosophical observations amidst the creative trails of blood on the floor.
The real attraction of the book is the essence of horror stated in Dorman’s seductive voice: ‘fear is an ambrosia, a liquor of unparalleled desire that I crave.’ There is something else at work in the writing; something that works around and underneath the words with demonic cleverness. The shifts from vision-possessed fugues back to real world were especially well done. Through sleight of hand plotting and misdirection Dorman induces the reader to empathise with Jamie, and we become complicit in his actions, participating in his sins whilst pretending not to know. The result of this manipulation is an emotional trap and you begin to understand that you will only find release from Jamie’s dragging guilt by reading through to the end.
The climax is a killing stroke with a strong message and is well worth the journey. Kephera Rising may be a gothic horror that marginalises itself by its extreme defiance but it recommends itself to its aghast audience in so doing.
First novel? Come off it, Dorman is no apprentice. She’s pulled something out of the hat with this one, but then she’s a practicing magician and no, it’s not a white bunny she’s holding in her hand. Then again, if being scared wasn’t irresistible, you wouldn’t be reaching out to take it.
[You can get it from Lyrical Press]