About 10 years ago or so, I attended the World Fantasy Book Convention that was held in Baltimore. I took a week off planning to take in some sights as well as the convention and then onto Washington D.C, which I had never actually been to before. Sure through or around, but never stopping in to check things out...like the Vietnam War Memorial where I found my uncle's name. Everything I experienced in DC was deeply moving. It was only a day or two spent there, but the impact was profound. My favorite stop was the Koren War Memorial. I had never seen anything like it and if any of you are ever in DC, I recommend it. I also saw the Star Wars exhibit with all the props, costumes and such, but this isn't about DC.
We spent most of the time around the Inner Harbor. There are great places to eat, lots of neat little shops and that is where the convention was. The convention itself was somewhat unremarkable, the memory now hazy and lost to time, but we had run into a friend of ours and his date and decided to take in some sights.
Baltimore is the land of Poe and for whatever reason, we decided to go on a walking tour of Baltimore to find the Poe House. In retrospect, this was not one of the brightest ideas we had ever had.
We actually did pass the church where Poe is entombed, but didn't stop to pay our respects. We didn't have a lot of time and were on a quest. The Inner Harbor is very clean, well policed, it's a commerce center, a tourist attraction and a safe place to be. However, it doesn't take long moving away from the Inner Harbor area to feel the depression of parts of the city. The clean modern brick landscape soon gives way to a more desolate cityscape. The buildings are older, more run down. There are a lot of people just sitting outside on their porches or hanging out in front of their houses, the neighborhood not altogether savory.
We were following the signs to the Poe House and found ourselves winding deeper and deeper into the labyrinth, the seedy side of Baltimore. To quote a wise on, "You will never see a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious." Only, apparently, we didn't get the memo.
As we walked, we could feel the eyes of all the locals resting on us, following us. We even heard some laughing, as if they couldn't believe we were crazy enough to be there. We walked for probably a couple hours, but couldn't find the place. So with much trepidation, we broke down and asked one of the locals. Luckily, he was a trustworthy sort and gave us accurate directions. We found the place not long after that, only to find the museum was only open on Fridays from like 2 - 4.
It was Thursday.
Book Description (From Amazon):
Publication Date: August 30, 2011 (Paperback Edition)
And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!
-- from "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe
At once an homage to one of America's greatest writers and a page-turning psychological mystery that is equal parts horror, humor, and romance, NEVERMORE is the story of Varen -- a Poe-fan and goth -- and Isobel -- a cheerleader and unlikely heroine. When a Lit. project pairs the two together, Isobel finds herself steadily swept into Varen's world, one that he has created in his notebook and in his mind, one where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life. Isobel slowly learns that dreams can be much more powerful than she'd ever expected, and that pain and despair come in all shades. As labels of "goth" and "cheerleader" fade away, she sees more in Varen than a tall, pale outcast, and a consuming romance is braced against the ever-clearer horror that the most terrifying realities are those within our own minds.
When Isobel has a single chance to rescue Varen from the shadows of his own nightmares, will she be able to save him -- and herself?
Finally.....I have been wanting to write about this book forever. I had actually pre-ordered the book back in 2010 based on the book cover alone and found the title to be intriguing. I read the synopsis, a good premise, and I was predisposed to love it on the spot. I couldn't wait for the book to arrive. When it did, I immediately tore into, spent a few nights getting way too little sleep as I was pulled into the Varen's dark gothic world.
It was beautiful, poetic, dark and mysterious. When I finished the book, I became, pensive if not downright moody. The story haunted me and I couldn't stop thinking about it. This lasted probably about a week. I couldn't read anything else immediately after, I thought about it at night when I tried to go to sleep, but my dreams, I believe, were at least free of the influence of this book.
Isobel seems to have it all, she's on the Cheer squad, dates the quarterback of the football team, has all the right friends and is popular. She has everything she ever wanted and her life is perfect. That is until she is paired with the resident goth boy on an English class project.
Varen seems to be a bit of a loner. He's dark and moody, has a lip ring, wears combat books and the only color in his wardrobe seems to be black except for a green mechanics jacket he wears. He is thought to be one of the biggest freaks in the school by the popular crowd. And he frequently powers the rumor mill from being a serial killer to a vampire and drinks blood, that he lived in the basement of an abandoned church and my favorite, that he slept in a coffin. He seems to look down his nose at all the bright, shiny people and his biggest aspiration is just to be invisible and left alone. He does hang with a crowd at school, all the goths and PIBs, but he seems to always be on the edge and never really seeming at home. A tormented soul.
In class, they are all given time to meet with partners and discuss ideas for the project. Varen just sits in the back and doesn't move. Isobel, expecting him to come to her, gets up and goes over to his desk. She just stands there while he stares off at nothing. Finally, not being able to take the awkward silence a moment longer, she tells him she is not doing the work all by herself. His response is that he isn't either. They seem to be getting off on the wrong foot, but then, for Isobel, the encounter enters the realm of the bizarre when he grabs her hand and writes is phone number on the back of her hand...in purple ink.
They're project? On Edgar Allan Poe.
When her boyfriend, Brad, finds out, he naturally threatens Varen and gets a little rough with him. So naturally, Varen blames Isobel, whom he believes has told her boyfriend to beat him up. I have to say, Brad is a big jerk and I find little redeeming quality about him. Isobel, Brad and "the crew" hang out every weekend, but it's like the same 6 people. Doesn't she have any other friends.
Isobel seems vapid, shallow and self-centered, but that is all appearance. She makes arrangements to meet with Varen at the library, but tells her friends she can't hang out because she has a dentists appointment. They do see through her deception and give her the cold shoulder. Varen tries to warn her that her friends know she lied to them by passing her a note, which ultimately ends up in the hands of Brad. Isobel tries to make up with Brad who takes her back, but after a big game, they all go for ice cream, which Isobel finds out is where Varen works. They trash the place, bully him and Brad almost steals money from the register until Isobel finally wakes up and smells the coffee and intercedes demanding they leave the shop. She breaks up with Brad, finally, and stays to help Varen clean up the shop. It is here where her heart starts to change.
There is mystery. What happened to Varen to make him the way he is? Why is he so tortured? He will let certain things out, but is quick to put up walls no one can breach if anyone gets too close. He's a poet and an artist, but what is he writing about? When he stays away from home, where does he go?
There is horror. Isobel finds that since she has become acquainted with Varen, she sees things...in mirrors, which is just creepy as all get out. She feels like she's being watched and one night while trying to run home through the park, she is actually followed, but by what or whom?
There's danger. Someone or something is definitely out to get Isobel, but why? She feels like her life is in danger and it has only been since she started working with Varen on the class project.
There are so many unanswered questions, like who is Reynolds and where does he come from? Where does he go when he disappears? What is his connection to Poe? Who is "She" that Varen is always referring to? Once Isobel starts to unlock Varen's secrets, how far will she go to unlock them all and will she wish she hadn't?
The book climaxes at an All Hallows Eve dance, by invitation only, called the Grim Facade. It turns into a night of terror where Poe's stories come to life.
This is one of those books that would not allow me to put it down until I had devoured it. With the sequel, Enshadowed, due out, I decided to read the book again just because. Even though I already knew what was to come, I was still on the edge of my seat, gripping my pillow in a kung-fu grip, not able to turn the pages fast enough.
From Varen's journal:
She stood in the mist, waiting for him again,
always in the same place.
He always asked the same question.
"What do you want me to do?"
She never answered. She couldn't. All she
could do was stare, reaching toward him with
her gaze alone, pulling him to drown in the
sorrow of those depthless black pools.