Last year one of our Gothic Council contributors, Carmilla Voiez, released an absolutely intense novel of demons, rape and murder called Starblood. It was the sort of thing Clive Barker might have penned if he were a woman, and just reading the thing was like feeling surgery begin just as the anesthetic takes effect. Beautiful, brilliant, bloody piece of work, and damn unnerving.
Now, Voiez is back with the second part of the planned trilogy, Psychonaut. The book is a tremendous departure from Starblood, dealing mostly with an internal journey through the worlds of magic and loss. What it loses in visceral gutshots, though, it gains in enlightenment.
When last we left her world, the young goth magician Satori had finished burying his estranged lover Star, who he had accidentally led into a relationship with the demon queen Lilith. Lilith overpowered both Star and Satori, and used them both to impregnate Star with a three-way child. The act drove Star to kill herself. Having returned home, Satori now faces the suspicions of the police in the murder of Star, as well as a quest through the spiritual planes in order to hopefully retrieve her from beyond death.
Starblood, to be blunt, was in large part a rape analogy. The idea of dominance through sex, of using intercourse as an attack and coupling to manipulate people against their will permeated nearly every page. That was the genius of it that helped Voiez overcome some of her first-novel jitters. No matter how many eye-rollingly modern goth tropes she occasionally overused, at its heart the book grabbed a reader by the throat and forced you to stare at the damage done when sex becomes your weapon of choice.
That was hard even before we here in America got to spend the last year listening to politicians crap through their mouths on the subject of rape. Now, it's almost unbearable.
Psychonaut initially holds onto that brutal style, but shifts quickly into territory that is new and very exciting. The story of Psychonaut is similar to Stephen King and Peter Straub's The Talisman in that the primary progression is our hero traveling through dual worlds at the same time.
Satori resembles Jack Sawyer in many ways. Both are extraordinarily gifted males in search of the key to a woman's salvation. Sawyer seeks a magical artifact to save his mother, who is a queen in the other world, while Satori wants to rescue Star, who is also more than she appears.
Once Satori begins the bulk of his journey, he is in a race against time. He can only travel while in a deep state of meditation...a state that is rapidly causing severe damage to his body. In addition, the police are unconvinced by the combination of truth and lies that Satori tells about Star and Lilith, and they are close to arresting him.
This style accomplishes something I would have said was impossible...It creates a philosophical action story. To reach Star, being tortured in Lilith's realm as she nurses their reptilian child, Satori not only has to cross great expanses, he must overcome tests designed to elevate his own soul. He has to seek the eradication of his own lustful imperfections and cruel nature in order to ascend.
These acts, everything from fights with a cockatrice to caring for the burnt soul of a friend who tried to kill herself in a fire and now lies in a coma in the real world, pull hard at the heartstrings as we watch an incredibly flawed man fight the only fight that really matters. He fights the spiritual infections that led him to unleash a demon on an ex-girlfriend in the first place.
"I'd say Satori is flawed, selfish and weak, but he wants to be better," said Voiez via e-mail. "I think anyone who wants to be better is essentially a good person if such a distinction must be made. He is willing to give his life for the woman he loves."
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Yet, even as he makes headway into his endeavor, he is continuously ripped back unexpectedly into reality by his own failing body or through the interference of the authorities. The pacing of the book is maddeningly addictive; the closer Satori gets, your heart races for his redemption just as much as you would seeing an action hero in a car chase.
Above all things, Psychonaut is a story about forgiveness, but with Voiez's true-crime approach to sex and blood never letting you forget the evil in the world that made forgiveness necessary in the first place. It's a book of mad impulses, inner vision, sadism, escape and belief. You feel uncomfortable reading it, like Alex strapped to the chair in Clockwork Orange being taught to feel sick at atrocity. Rather than leave us crippled by response, though, Psychonaut bears you through the hurt towards the only paradise we can be assured of...a love past fault.
"Fairy tales tell us about the human psyche and that's what Psychonaut is trying to do," said Voiez. "They're fables full of warnings for humankind. It wasn't written with the purpose of being a fairy tale, but perhaps it became one."