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Tempter by Nancy A Collins
(Gauntlet, $40.00, 222 pages, hardback; September 2001.)

Nancy Collins made her name -- and added a phrase to dark fantasy's vocabulary -- with her first novel, Sunglasses After Dark (1989), a tale of chic, urbanized vampires. cover scanHer second novel followed in short order: Tempter (1990). This book received much less attention, being generally regarded as more of the same, but with voodoo added somewhat discordantly to the vampiric mix. What was unknown to readers back in 1990 was that the vampires in the tale had been added only at the behest of Collins's publishers, who were eager to groom their newly discovered author as "the next Anne Rice". For this new edition Collins has not only taken the vampires back out again but also rewritten almost every sentence in the novel in some way, great or small.

Although it was not rated very highly at the time, Tempter was in its initial form a pretty fair novel. It is now better than that. A mark of how much better is that this reviewer read it in the form of an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) so littered with typographical errors that in the ordinary way he would have found it impossible to continue for more than a couple of dozen pages because of the constant distraction, yet he not only finished the book but found it gripping.*

The tale is set in New Orleans. Alex Rossiter is a has-been rock star making efforts to restart his career, although hampered in this by the urgings of his testosterone. He experiments with voodoo (or, as we're told, more correctly "voudou") in the hope that the voudou gods will aid his career. Penis-guided as always, he ends up in bed with the beautiful mambo, Ti, who danced at his initiation ceremony. From her he borrows and then purloins a grimoire called The Aegrosomnia, blood-sacrifice-requiring spells from which, we later discover, were used by a vicious plantation-owner, Donatien Legendre, in a bid to bring himself physical immortality. Luckily he was thwarted by a slave-girl/voudou mamalewe whom he'd raped, Jazrel, but his evil soul, now known as Il-Qui-Tente ("Tempter") lingers on in the remains of his mansion, Seraphine, aching for a route back into the world of mortals...

Which route it discovers through Alex Rossiter.

Other characters involved in what becomes a fairly complex plot include Charlie, a beautiful yuppie with a propensity for falling in love with ghastly men; Jere, the not-very-successful artist who for years has loved her but whom she regards only platonically; Arsine, a member of Rossiter's new band; and Mad Aggie, an ancient who peddles voudou paraphernalia that everyone believes, wrongly, to be just tourist-fleecers. The strongest and best depicted of all these characters are quite noticeably the black ones -- Ti, Arsine and Aggie.

A further complication of the plot arises -- indeed, several, interrelated further complications -- because none of these characters can be guaranteed to be the normal human beings they seem to be; they may instead be the physical incarnations of immortal souls that can emerge on occasion to dominate the temporal spirit of the individual concerned. On occasion this causes Collins some difficulties in presenting her material; most of the time she copes very well with these, but there are scenes involving two separate entities, one called Alex and the other Rossiter, where one has to pay close attention to be absolutely certain of who is whom.

The pace of the telling in general rarely flags, the only real exception being during a central section when we are treated to extensive extracts from the 19th-century journals of Donatien Legendre's lawyer and then of the wife whom Legendre grievously abused. Collins makes these extracts, which are vital to any understanding of the rest of the action, as interesting as she can -- and it is to her credit that she succeeds so well -- but even so they do stand out in stark contrast to the breakneck pace of the rest.

Such minor carps aside, it is excellent news that at last a definitive version of Tempter has been released. Whether or not one read the previous edition, this is a novel that merits attention.

Footnote: * I have been assured by both publisher and author that the text has been very thoroughly corrected preparatory to final publication. [...back to main text]

Review by John Grant.

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© John Grant 10 November 2001