Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book Review: Christabel by Karin Kallmaker

Christabel by Karin Kallmaker is a reincarnation romance set in Manhattan, about a true love between a settler and a native American, who come together in the modern world of fashion and finance.

Like her other fantasy and scifi fiction, it was originally published under the pen name of Laura Adams (back in 1998), but has since been revised and republished using her real name. The blurb is dreadfully misleading, though, as it doesn't really ever say 'hey, this has magic and multiple lives and so on in it!'. I really, truly expected a standard romance between an abused celebrity model under the thumb of her manager, and the high-flying professional accountant.

got a multiple narrative story of past lives, true love, spirituality, psychics and demons. Also, generations of suffering, which made for a very grim undertone. So be warned, while there is sickeningly sweet happily ever after and perfect true love at the end, most of the story involves fear, danger and abuse.
Dina is a highly ambitious career woman, part of a high flying accounting corporation who helps get customers financed and sold to buyers. She's hired to help sell Leo Goranson. Unfortunately, the guy turns out to be a manipulative and sadistic slimeball - with the breathtakingling lovely, albeit oddly resigned and helpless, Christabel under his thumb.

Way back when the first European settlers where first co-existing on the island of Manhattan with the local native Americans, Christabel was born, and met the native American woman, Radohnee under a great tree. And they secretly fall in love, while the local Reverend increases his intolerant grasp, until the entire colony is in a frenzy of witchhunting, and he has backed Christabel into a corner.

Christabel was reincarnated all the way down through history, constantly hunted and tormented by the demonic Reverend in his various forms, until the present day, when she finally meets up with Dina (again). Interestingly, while she apparently looked the same (or very similar), and the Reverend lusted after her, it is only the modern Christabel's astonishing good looks that are ever mentioned.

Radohnee, and her descendants - leading all the way to Dina - all have the Green. Green eyes and a sort of nature magic, or empathic spirituality. This allows Radohnee to become part of the spirit of the great tree, and her soul to hang around waiting for Christabel to meet up with her again. Although technically, it wasn't Radohnee, as Dina is a separate person in her own right.

And Dina was never much interested in her mother's attempts to explain the mysticism that would pass to her daughter after she died. But Dina can't deny her desire, only equal to the repulsion she feels for the fashion designer keeping Christabel on a string.

The story arc was a bit choppy in pacing - this wasn't the fault of the narrative switching between the original and the modern lovers, which was quite seamlessly done, just the way the modern story seemed to hang on the events of the past.

A lot of the magical aspects were quite vague - was the reverend reincarnated along with Christabel, or just immortal? What was his relationship to the demon, and where did it come from? Were the women the same souls as the original women - or was Christabel the only reincarnation? (As there were a bunch of ancestral spirits hanging around waiting for vengeance, this isn't as nitpicky as it sounds. In fact, what about their mothers? Would they have fallen in love with each other, too?). Mostly this doesn't matter, but it's annoying to go halfway into explaining and then ignoring all the other fascinating details.

Basically, it's a gripping, albeit slightly unsettling, romance between two women who finally meet up again after centuries, and have to finally defeat the monster who separated them.

The story - or at least the name of the book - was inspired by the poem of the same name by Samuel Coleridge about a mysterious witch or demon who enchants a girl - it was never finished, but may have directly inspired the definitely lesbian vampire, Carmilla.

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