Pauline Gedge:The Covenant

This isn't your average SF, fantasy, or even horror book. Pauline Gedge isn't your average such author, though, so that's only to be expected. Gedge's Stargate was a wonderful book, but her only science fiction so far; the bulk of her output has been historical fiction. This is her first real horror work.

It starts slowly--grieving widow Jessica goes to visit her parents' former employers, the Rensbys, in England. Everything, however, is Not As It Seems. Lady Eleanor Rensby looks much younger than her age would seem to warrant. And they never did explain the disappearance of Jessica's sister Jane so many years ago(though we know, from the Prologue, that the Rensbys were responsible).

Jessica, who is being employed to sort out data on the Rensby family history, unearths startling facts about periodic disappearances in the area, mysterious revivals of the family fortune at the brink of disaster, etc. And then she begins to remember how Sir Matthew Rensby had molested her as a child. So she leaves; but for some reason(plot necessity?)she can't get a flight home from Heathrow for a few days. (I wasn't sure about this, myself...)

Then she ends up falling in love with Sir Matthew's son, Peter, and agrees to stay for a "ceremony" the day before his 21st birthday, just a few days away. She has, apparently, ignored the clues that scream(to the reader, at least), "Demon! Demon! Don't go!"

For some odd reason, the author shifts to the point of view of Caroline, Peter's sister, for the last two chapters, as she goes to try to save Jessica; she has apparently grown disgusted of her life, or some such thing. Jessica, however, is too smart to be rescued. The book ends on a slightly ambiguous note, but not a particularly optimistic one.

What bothers me most about the book is not the ending, though, per se. It's that Jessica seems to be too stupid to live; or perhaps Gedge has used the trick(didn't David Eddings use it in The Diamond Throne?)of having an enemy that saps the protagonist's intelligence, thus making her do stupid things. After setting us up to like the character in the first half of the book, the author abandons her in the second half and seems to become gratuitously mean to her. And to forestall the protests that this is typical for horror--Jessica is abandoned to the extent that one loses all sympathy for her. By the end, I cared not a whit for her, and there was no one else to feel sympathy for.

Gedge has done better. And I hope she will stay away from horror in the future.

%A Gedge, Pauline
%T The Covenant
%I Penguin
%C Toronto
%D Copyright 1992
%G ISBN 0-14-016895-8
%P 269 pp.
%O Paperback, Can$6.99

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