Oct 28, 2008

The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers

The year is 1816. A young doctor named Michael Crawford is travelling to Bexhill-on-Sea to get married. After a night of drinking at an inn, he puts the wedding ring he’s meant to give to his bride on the finger of a statue he finds in the courtyard, so that he’ll not lose it in the dark. The rest of the night brings some strange occurrences, and in the morning both statue and ring are gone. He finds a replacement ring and marries Julia the following day, but their marital happiness is short lived. Michael wakes up from his wedding night to find his wife murdered so brutally that nothing human could possibly have killed her. As the room was locked, suspicions inevitably turn to him. Michael flees to London, where he’s given shelter by a young medical student by the name of John Keats.

The Stress of her Regard is a historical fantasy novel that once again brings vampires and the Romantic poets together. Other than Keats, we see Percy and Mary Shelley, Byron, Polidori, and all the people who joined them in Switzerland and later in Italy. In this novel, however, it’s not the poets themselves who are vampires. They’re fully human, but they are preyed on by creatures that are not. Actually, in Shelley’s case it’s a little more complicated than that, but I don’t want to give too much away.

What is meant by “vampires” in this novel is something very different from the folklore or popular culture definition of the term. The vampires we see in The Stress of her Regard are also known as the Nephilim, or giants, faeries, lamiae, succubae, Muses, Graces, you name it. Tim Powers develops a complex and rich mythology in this book. He goes back to Hebrew and Greek mythology and incorporates elements from several different traditions. The result is something wholly new – these are vampires like you’ve never seen them before – and it was refreshing to read a Gothic novel that deviates from the established conventions.

The inner mythology of The Stress of Her Regard is almost too complex to work, but Tim Powers does manage to sustain it successfully throughout the whole story. Towards the end some of the characters have to do something to rid humankind of these beings, and the whole thing is so elaborate that for a while I was almost lost. But as things were explained, and as I remembered certain details from earlier in the book, everything fell into place. I really admire Tim Powers for being able to pull that off.

This story’s main protagonist is Michael Crawford, but we do get to see a lot of the Romantic poets, especially Byron. A few weeks ago, when I read The Vampyre by Tom Holland, I said it’d be interesting to see how it compared to this. But the fact is that the books are too different for me to be able to compare them. Both are Gothic novels that reinvent many of the same historical characters, and both work around, or within, the same historical facts. But what each does with these facts is completely unique.

Although I fell in love with the vampire Byron we see in Tom Holland’s novel, the Byron in The Stress of her Regard is actually closer to my mental image of the poet. I wonder if this has to do with the fact that in this novel we only ever get to see him from the outside, which makes him more distant and thus more mysterious. Also, a complaint that isn’t really a complaint: once again Mary Shelley remains mostly in the background. I really can’t say that this is a flaw in the story, but I very much wanted to have seen more of her. Since it seems that I don’t tire of fictional retellings of the lives of the Romantic poets, next time I’ll have to find one from a female perspective.

I really enjoyed The Stress of her Regard. It’s dark, evocative, fast-paced and very original. I look forward to reading more Tim Powers. I think I’ll try The Anubis Gates next, where once again Byron makes an appearance. Or, if I’m in the mood for pirates and zombies, On Stranger Tides (a book that inspired the awesome Monkey Island video games, which is another reason for me want to read it.)

Other Opinions:
Jenny's Books


  1. now you've gone and made me want another book again...lol

    It sounds like a great read, I like how you say: 'refreshing to read a Gothic novel that deviates from the established conventions'

    great review!

  2. I read this book long ago when it was first published, and I loved it too. Really good review, Nymeth, that captures what Powers does in this book. I really enjoy Powers, and I'm so glad you do too! Anubis Gates is fun, but remember it's his first book published, so there are a few rough spots that vanish in his later books.
    Darn, this book has been re-released and now you've made me wonder if I have time to reread before I go to England! I'm hoping to visit Keat's house in Hampstead Heath this time :-) though it would be better to read some of his poetry too!!
    And if you fell in love with Byron in Tom Holland, I'm going to have to give that a try!! lol

  3. I am interested in this author after reading your review, your reviews are so very good. As Susan mentioned, his later books are rid of the rough spots so I am going to check out what he wrote and order one at my library now that I am back going there...cannot buy books for the time being.

  4. Oh, this book sounds intriguing!!! I love reading your insights of the books you reviewed... I can always feel the personal note in them which makes it a more pleasant read. :)

    I'll have to check out this book. Thanks again, Nymeth!

  5. Gah, reading your blog does terrible things to my already stressed TBR pile!

    I've heard the name Tim Powers before, but didn't have any real idea what he wrote... but it sounds like I"m going to have to remedy that! This one sounds amazing.

  6. It's high time I read some Tim Powers. I have The Anubis Gates on my tbr pile but I love the sound of the book you've reviewed here, so will see if the library has it.

  7. Nice review! I have heard of this book, but had no idea what is was about. Definitely sounds like a book I'd enjoy.

  8. I hope this is checked in at the library when I go tomorrow! It sounds great and I want to get some Gothic novels to read the week of Halloween. Thanks for the review!

  9. This sounds great! Much better than Soul in a Bottle. Soul in a Bottle was good, but it wasn't great and left me a little underwhelmed. Can't wait to get my hands on this one though!

  10. Nymeth dear, stop it, OK? My wish list is getting longer and you're making me want to break my book ban all over again. I'm a sucker for vampire-related tales... :p

    Good job with the review!

  11. So the moral of the story is to not take off that ring and put it on a statue for safekeeping? :P Sounds like a fascinating book and I like how it brings in literary figures who also dealt with the gothic and romantic. How did you come about picking this one up?

  12. Now I guess I'm going to have to read The Stress of Her Regard AND The Vampyre! Great review!

  13. Wow...this sounds soooo good! I bought one of Tim Power's books several months ago. I'd never heard of him at the time, but the book just sounded great. Since then, I've read Chris's review and now yours, and I'm all the more intrigued by this guy. Because the book I bought (Three Days to Never) sounds so completely different from the ones you and Chris read. I think I need to move it to my nightstand right now before I forget about it again.

  14. ooh wow, this seems very novel indeed! and you say it works? 'cause its very ambitious. but if powers pulls it off then this is a definite must!

    thanks for the cool review!

  15. That sounds quite good; I've only read one Powers book and I wasn't really 'sold' on it (it was On Stranger Tides, a pirate book), but I bet I would like this better.

  16. Naida: It was really nice to find a take on vampires unlike anything I've seen before!

    Susan: You know, even though I find the Romantic poets completely fascinating, I am not exactly a big fan of their actual poetry :P There are some exceptions, of course - mostly Byron, but some Coleridge, Keats and Shelley too...not so much Wordsworth. But as a general rule, I much prefer contemporary poetry. Anyway, how cool that you'll get to visit Keat's house! I want to kick myself to this day for having lived in Nottinghamshire for half a year and not having visited Newstead Abbey, Byron's house. And do read The Vampyre if you have the chance. I really think you'll enjoy it!

    Madeleine, hope you find it at the library!

    Melody, thank YOU, my dear! You are always so encouraging :)

    Fyrefly: Reading your blog does that to me too, so there :P

    Cath, I hope you enjoy both!

    Stephanie, I really think you would :)

    Andrea: Yes, it couldn't be better for the week of Halloween. I hope you manage to find it!

    Chris: I think this one is right up your alley! From what I've seen Tim Powers is quite prolific, so I guess it's understandable that some of his books are better than others... but it's always a let down to start with one of the less good ones!

    Alice: Well, you do the same to me :P

    Trish: lol! Funnily enough, in some ways it is :P I found this book because a while ago I went through a Byron phase, and I decided to look for fictional takes on his life. I found both this and Tom Holland's book, and since they involved vampires I thought I'd get them for RIP.

    Jenclair: Both are well worth it!

    Debi: I was looking up Three Days to Never, and it does sound unlike this or the book Chris read, but it also sounds very good! Einstein and Chaplin...it looks like he enjoys including historical figures in his books. I hope the book turns out to be as good as it sounds!

    JP: It is VERY ambitious, but he manages to pull it off.

    Daphne: On Stranger Tides is actually one I'm curious about, because of the connection with the Monkey Island videogames. Sorry to hear you didn't enjoy it all that much!

  17. Oddly enough, I am liking it more in retrospect, although I still had some problems with it... but it was worth reading. I bet you would like it. :)

  18. Wow, that sounds fantastic. How can there be so many good books I've never heard of out there??

  19. Ooo..this one sounds interesting. I'm adding to my to-read list. Thanks!

  20. This definitely sounds different from any vampire book I've ever read. I'm intrigued that's for sure. Thanks for another great review Nymeth!

  21. Daphne, I hope I do!

    JP: Enjoy :D

    Joanna: I often ask myself the same! Fortunately there are book bloggers to let me know about them :P

    Amanda and Iliana, I hope you both enjoy it when you get to it!

  22. What an interesting concept, vampires and the romantic poets! I took a class on the romantic poets in college, so this especially appeals to me. Thanks for the great review!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  23. this is not the kind of book i usually read.. though if i read your review once more, i'll run to pick it up!:)
    i am slowly starting to explore books like this and this book definitely sounds interesting.:)

  24. Anna: Romantic poets and vampires just go wonderfully together :D I hope you enjoy the book when you get to it.

    Ramya: I'm very glad to hear that! It always makes me happy to see people begin to discover fantasy :)

  25. Randomly my favourite commedian Eddie Izzard (seeing him again at the end of the month woo!) grew up in Bexhill-on-Sea. This sounds like just my kind of thing and I will put it on my christmas list as people have started asking what I want.

  26. I just came back from the library where I ordered THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER by Kathleen Kent and THREE DAYS TO NEVER by Tim Powers. after reading your review THE STRESS OF HER REGARD by the same author I wanted to give him a try. It has history, spookiness etc...I will have to put aside Kinsella for a while as both books are 14 day books, to be returned to the library. I am going to put up the synopsis, if you are interested. This book is 2006.

  27. This one has my curiosity levels raised after ur review..wish to get it soon.and loved ur review.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.