Monday, July 4, 2011

BLOODLINES: Serial Fiction in Horror: #1-- Zorachus by Mark E. Rogers

By Bill Lindblad

Horror movie sequels are so common as to have become a punchline. For a successful movie not to have a follow-up is rare.

This makes the lack of horror story sequels curious. While they do exist, they're uncommon, and when they occur it's usually in one of two formats: either a webwork of stories all connecting to the same general vicinity with some repetition of secondary characters (as with Lovecraft's Arkham or Braunbeck's Cedar Hill) or a supernatural detective.

While I'll happily discuss both of those types of series, there are others, equally interesting.

The Zorachus / Zancharthus books of Mark E. Rogers are among the best of them. Unfortunately, despite being great horror novels, they were never listed under horror. Instead they were sold as traditional fantasy novels. It's an understandable mistake; they feature magic, swordplay, and armored figures riding horses.

They also start off with a character being riddled with crossbow bolts, only to rise up and slam a pair of them through the ears of the first soldier foolish enough to approach the "dead" man. This sets the tone for the rest of the series, where we'll see people ripped apart by spiders, chopped slowly into pieces by a cleaver-swinging demon, and even a man devoured alive as his harem of feral pigs turns on him. The series averages far more than one gruesome "on-screen" death per chapter over the course of its nine books. This is as much horror as fantasy, no matter where it may have gotten shelved in the stores.

The books are set on an alternate world where monotheism is absolute fact, and God and the Devil are overtly influencing events. God is acting in the way familiar to most monotheistic religions on Earth, sending a messiah who will redeem his followers and encouraging people away from hatred, violence, lust, and other base instincts. The Devil, on the other hand, is wearing many different guises and setting factions of people against each other while tempting them into choosing damnation.

This could be simplistic, and it could easily devolve into a paean to one religion or another; instead Rogers plays fair with the readership and maintains the common outlines for "good" without actively promoting Christianity, Judiasm, Islam, or any other actual religion. Sexuality and violence alike are treated as dangerous traps less because of any specific perversity (and just about every permutation of sex or violence is covered in the books) than because of the opening that lust or rage gives to evil's influence.

The first two books, Zorachus and The Nightmare of God, follow the fall of title character Zorachus from missionary to servant of evil. They are a tragedy in the classical sense, where we see the seeds of failure blossom due to events and the inherent personality flaws of the protagonist.
The next three books, The Blood of the Lamb trilogy (The Expected One, The Devouring Void, The Riddled Man) follow the discovery of a messiah, and the fallout from the different reactions of a few philosopher-priests tasked with determining his divinity.

The other books in the series (Blood & Pearls, Jagutai & Lilitu, The Night of the Long Knives, Lilitu) flesh out the world by telling the histories of some of the key characters in the early books. The result is a fully fleshed fantasy world where bad things... a lot of very bad things... are commonplace, but for a reason. It's a weird mix of theological philosophy and escapism, and very highly recommended.

Most of the titles can be purchased on Amazon or Barnes and Noble online; those that cannot can often be purchased used.

--Bill Lindblad