There are few things that achieve the New York trifecta of sophistication, importance, and urbanity like attending a friend’s book release party. It makes a gratifying answer to the banal, What are you doing tonight? “Going to a book release party. For my friend’s second novel. He’s kinda a big deal.” Watching people I know succeed in the creative world provides a simultaneous rush of pride and hope. A reassurance that I haven’t yet become bitter nor jaded when I feel nothing but happiness for them.
I was first introduced to the author at his wedding. A strange place to meet someone, especially as I had no connection to the bride either. No personal connection, that is. The bride and groom met performing summer theater and decided to tie the knot in a place tied to their roots as a couple. In the spirit of community, they invited the entire current cast to witness their nuptials.
The next time I saw Chris was at the release of his first novel. I walked up to him, offered my congratulations, and reminded him who I was. “New York Cliché, I was at your wedding. And now here I am at your book release. I plan to just pop up at all major events in your life from now on. Expect to see me in the hospital at the birth of your first child.”
I checked out that first novel, Those Across the River, from the New York Public Library, resisting the urge to tell the librarian “I know the author, Chris Buehlman!” Categorized in the genera of literary horror, I must confess, it is a book I would normally never pick up on my own. Horror makes me jumpy. I couldn’t read it on the subway, the sound of a train hurtling through dark tunnels making a soundtrack to the vivid, unsettling supernatural that made my heart race uncomfortably. I couldn’t read it alone in my apartment, even if I turned on all the lights and double bolted the door. Something bad is going to happen! Why did he make me care about these characters so much if he’s just going to make awful things happen to them!? AH, I can’t stand it! It took me a long time to read to the end despite the gripping story and wonderful characters. It is a testament to the writer how much his words affected my body and mind.
I got to know Chris better this summer and now honestly can call him my friend (not just “that guy whose wedding I went to”). I was excited to read his second novel, but also fearful of the psychological toll it might take, especially as I walk the streets of Harlem alone at night. Happily, I fared much better reading Between Two Fires. In fact, I read it almost exclusively on my new subway commute. The story takes place in medieval France during the height of the bubonic plague. The disease and time period alone provide more terror than any monster the human mind has created, and that’s historical fact. The suspense of the last book that put my stomach in knots was much easier to handle. Horrible, terrible things would happen to these characters- there was never any question of it. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, as was all of Europe in the mid 14th century. The story is framed by a battle of good and evil, angels battling literal demons. The horrific events that happen to our characters are great in number yet enough good happens so despair never takes over. Hope as a counterbalance to the horror kept me glued to the page.
This is a book I would enjoy, even had I not known the author. Chris Buehlman‘s master lies in the characters he creates. They are always the focus of the story and you can not help but love them. The tragic knight Thomas, who has lost everything yet sit has so much to fight for, the angelic Delphine who bares the weight of the world on her 12-year-old shoulders, and the painfully human priest, Père Matthieu. The dialogue sparkles with humor and wit that, like unto King Midas, is the Beuhlman touch. The horror aspect features as a savory side dish rather than the main course. The historical time period and place set a fascinating stage for an epic journey filled with constant battles and miracles.
Today, Hurricane Sandy has shut down NYC. Subways aren’t running, schools and businesses closed. The streets are deserted. Halloween is mere days away. If there was ever a perfect day to sit indoors with a mug of tea and a good book, this is it. Allow me to whole-heartedly recommend Between Two Fires. You can buy it right this second for your e-reader, no need to venture out into the storm. The howling wind and rain outside will provide a perfect soundtrack. You may get so sucked in that by the time you lift your nose from the page, the skies will have cleared. Find it here on Amazon where you can get a sizable preview of this well-crafted novel.
Stay safe and warm, everyone!