Lara Parker is the (still) lovely lady who played the witch Angelique (and a few other roles) on the 1960s horror soap opera, Dark Shadows. She appears very briefly in Tim Burton’s recent film adaptation of the series, and she’s done a boatload of Dark Shadows audio productions for Big Finish, also usually playing Angelique.
Wolf Moon Rising is her third novel set in the Dark Shadows universe. (Or, more correctly, the Dark Shadows multiverse, which she’s expanded with this volume.) In her first venture, Angelique’s Descent, she gave us a biography of her character. That is, she chronicled one of Angelique’s numerous lives, albeit a short one. Angelique Bouchard was born in the 1770s and lived on the island of Martinique, where she was a servant to Josette DuPres, daughter of a wealthy French merchant. As a very young woman, Angelique fell in love with an American, Barnabas Collins, a young man on his first business trip abroad, representing his family’s company. Sadly, Barnabas had his fun with Angelique, then met her mistress Josette and forgot all about the poor servant girl. Josette, as heir to another fortune, was more fit to be the wife of a rich New Englander.
But, as mentioned, Angelique was a witch, and a very powerful one. She made Barnabas, Josette, and both their families pay for her mistreatment. When all was said and done, Barnabas had lost Josette, his mother, his sister, his aunt, and his uncle and he, Barnabas, had been cursed and made into a vampire. “Everyone who loves you will die,” said Angelique as she cursed him. And, well, Angelique loved him, so she died first. He strangled her and threw her in his own coffin. Eventually, Barnabas turned himself over to his father to be destroyed. Unable to drive a stake through the heart of his last remaining child, Joshua Collins chained Barnabas in his coffin, presumably forever.
“Forever” lasted until 1967, when Barnabas was revived, only to learn that rumors of Angelique’s death were greatly exaggerated. Over the course of the next four years of the beloved serial, the audience learned that Angelique had lived as Miranda Duval in the 1600s, where she had first made a deal with the devil and been burned as a witch for it. The devil had let her come back, again and again.
Parker’s first novel re-told and augmented the 1790s piece of this history, adding (in far more graphic style than 1960s TV would have allowed) the initial love story of Barnabas and Angelique among the islands, which was only back story on the show. At its end, the first novel leaps forward in time to 1972, the year after Dark Shadows the TV show was canceled, and ends on a cliffhanger, with Barnabas meeting a visitor to Collinwood, one Antoinette Harpignies, who looks just like the long-dead Angelique. In the second novel, The Salem Branch, we meet Antoinette’s daughter Jacqueline. Confusingly, while Antoinette looks just like Angelique, Jacqueline is Angelique, reincarnated. The distinction even confuses Barnabas, who decides in volume two that he did love Angelique, and proposes marriage to Antoinette, who prefers Barnabas’s immortal cousin, the werewolf, Quentin. The real reincarnated witch, meanwhile, decides she’d rather be with Barnabas’s teenaged cousin, David. Just as it seems Barnabas can’t win for losing, his long-time companion, Dr. Julia Hoffman, becomes a vampire.
And they all live happily ever after… until book three.
Wolf Moon Rising is Parker’s best entry to date, although, ironically, the characters served best by it are not those of Angelique and Barnabas. The author seems to have successfully separated herself from an attachment to her alter ego and embraced a whole cast of characters. Indeed, she seems perhaps a little bored with the witch and the vampire as we knew them throughout the course of the TV series.
This boredom is reflected in a rough and uncomfortable opening, with Barnabas, about five minutes into an eternity shared with Julia, already bored with her and wanting her gone. He behaves petulantly and destructively, not only making an attempt to put Julia out of his life forever, but also lashing out at his imagined rival, Quentin, robbing him of his eternal youth and restoring his werewolf curse, all in a fit of temper. The implication is that, now that he’s a vampire again, Barnabas has lost his natural nobility and is a selfish, brutish creature of the night. In fact, he comes off as something of a spoiled teenager, making the reader roll his eyes and wonder, “What the hell is wrong with this idiot?” Vampire Julia is every bit as cruel and dangerous as Barnabas, but she doesn’t seem the least bit petulant. Julia’s quite good at being a predator. There’s no whining coming from her side of the double coffin.
Sadly, we don’t see a lot of vampire Julia. The good news is that neither do we see much of this suddenly Twilight-ized vampire Barnabas. This is not his book. This book, despite the romantic photo of Quentin Collins on the cover, really belongs to the teenagers, David and Jackie. As soon as they step into the spotlight, the story begins to shine.
David is a homeschooled rich kid whose mother died in a fire as she beckoned him to come die with her in the flames. When he was ten, he tried to murder his father. His childhood playmates were ghosts. Real ones. He lives in the house with two vampires and an immortal werewolf. His girlfriend is a witch. In all other ways, he’s a normal sixteen-year-old. He wants a car, but no one’s letting him have one yet, so he’s restoring an old snowmobile. It’s Maine, after all. Crawling around the outbuildings of his family estate, he finds a perfectly preserved Duesenberg automobile from the 1920s. In this, he and Jackie go for a joyride… straight back to 1929.
Dark Shadows always used crazy devices for time travel: séances, I-Ching trances, magic stairways and reality-warping rooms. The Duesenberg is hardly outside the norm as a method of traveling back through the years. The time travel section of the story is its highlight. Parker did her research, particularly on the film career of Joan Bennett, the 1930s/40s film star who was the matriarch on the original TV series. She melds the histories of Bennett and her principal character, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, making Liz, whose past before 1948 was never discussed on the show, into a former film star who, like Bennett, had multiple marriages and a healthy collection of scandals to her name. In 1929, David meets his stately Aunt Elizabeth as a 19-year-old. A flapper, Liz has already been married and divorced, and is embarking on a film career, following in the footsteps of her father, a stage actor. She’s also perfectly comfortable riding the sideboard of a Model-T while carrying a gun, and having shootouts with the Mafia who want a piece of her family’s bootlegging business. And she’s having an affair with Quentin, not realizing he’s her great uncle.
It’s preposterous, insane and fun. I think the only thing that might make some fans of the show uncomfortable is the characterization of Liz’s father Jamison. Fans knew Jamison only as a terrorized 12-year-old boy on the show, and he was a popular character. Some may be perplexed to see him portrayed here in his forties as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. And perhaps it is surprising to see a New Englander characterized in this way. But Tennessee-born Parker is here to remind us the racism was (and sadly still is) everywhere, not just in the Southern states.
I mentioned the multi-verse, and that Parker has created a new universe within it. Wolf Moon Rising clearly separates Parker’s novels from the main Dark Shadows universe. I don’t know if this was the intent, but I can’t imagine it’s just the product of sloppy research. In the series, Quentin became a werewolf in 1897, cursed by his sister-in-law, the Gypsy Magda, because he’d treated his wife and children so shabbily. In Wolf Moon, Quentin recounts his history and his curse, but says that he married Magda’s sister Jenny only after Magda had agreed to use her magical powers to let him have one year of wedded bliss with Liz. That would place his marriage to Jenny more than 30 years later than it happened in the series, not leaving time for Quentin and Jenny to be the great-grandparents of the ill-fated Jennings siblings of 1968, Tom, Chris and Amy. Liz is also ten years older in the book than in the show, born in 1909 instead of 1919, which was given as the character’s birthdate.
The strangest divergence from the show, and the least explicable, is the repeated statement that David is the heir to the Collins fortune, because he’s the only male of his generation to bear the name. This is a bit odd, because he wasn’t the heir in the series. His Aunt Elizabeth owned the house, and barely tolerated the presence of her brother Roger, David’s inattentive father. Obviously, Liz’s father didn’t play boy-girl games in his will, as he left the house to his daughter. So why would Liz decide to leave it to her idiot brother’s son? Her daughter, Carolyn, is the eldest, and is, well her daughter.
But that’s a nitpick. It’s been so many years since the original show went off the air that it’s natural for derivative works to go off in new directions. Just as Bogey once said that he didn’t owe the public anything but a good performance, an author doesn’t owe us anything but an entertaining story. Parker has certainly delivered that. In fact, she’s made Dark Shadows more accessible to a new audience. Readers of this book need not be versed in the history of the TV show to enjoy it, and I do think the story will create new fans of the Collins family.