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Netherworld / Lisa Morton

JournalStone / January 2014
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

Lady Diana Furnaval, Lisa Morton’s thoroughly engaging heroine at the center of this first book in a planned trilogy, had her humble beginnings in short fiction. She first appeared in “Diana and the Goong-Si”, Morton’s contribution to Midnight Walk, an anthology she also ably helmed as editor back in 2009. Here’s what this writer had to say about his first meeting with Lady Furnaval in his review of the anthology:

“…an exquisitely detailed story of a British noblewoman who travels to China in 1880 in search of her missing husband. Morton crafts a mesmerizing cross-genre tale that blends ancient Chinese culture with the undead and vampirism within an authentic historical context of the late 19th-century opium-for-tea trading industry between Britain and China. Infused with great humanity, ‘Diana and the Goong-Si’ possesses the delicate period sensibilities of The Painted Veil and the hair-raising psychic vampirism elements of One Dark Night.”

Indeed, that introduction to m’lady Furnaval left my literary taste buds watering for more. Morton – perhaps taking the concept of leaving readers wanting more a little too far during the ensuing five-year wait – finally rewards readers with the first of three full-length Lady Diana horror adventures.

Netherworld is a non-stop theme park ride, every bit as kitschy as it is thrilling. Morton writes with a genuine cinematic flair, her background as a screenwriter coming in handy as she plots adventure after adventure for her Victorian-era leading lady. Remaining true to Furnaval’s short fiction roots, Morton keeps the essential backstory intact while expanding on it: Furnaval is indeed a young widow who –having reason to believe her presumed-dead husband is trapped between worldly dimensions – travels from England to India to the Far East of the Orient to America’s burgeoning West on a mission to close supernatural portals and fend off an impending demonic apocalypse. Along for the ride are Lady Diana’s trusted sidekicks – a young Chinese sailor named Yi-kin and a gray tabby with extrasensory prowess named Mina.

As Lady Diana and company make their way (literally) across the globe, they run afoul of myriad monsters and assorted spooky spine-tinglers. All manner of which – from trapped spirits and bloodthirsty vampires to reptilian underground dwellers and a malevolent Hindu goddess – are along for what feels like a deliriously demented ride through an adult version of Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction. That Morton can also effortlessly weave bits of social commentary into the narrative (classism, racism, sexism…all present and accounted for) without the heavy-handedness that would plague lesser writers helps sets Netherworld apart from its genre brethren.

Morton masterfully opts for a straightforward narrative style in Netherworld, which gives the novel an instant readability that lends to the feeling that the book is marked by a running time instead of a page count. Like a literary set designer, she uses a commanding economy of words to fashion exquisitely grotesque set pieces that lend to the urgency of Lady Diana’s many harrowing otherworldly predicaments while bestowing the novel with a classic horror sensibility. Think Coppola’s 1992 adaptation of Dracula with the energy of 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, lovingly brushed with a Tim Burton veneer – and starring Angelina Jolie in her action movie heyday.

Series can be a tricky business, but Morton successfully concludes Lady Diana’s first set of adventures satisfyingly enough (even managing an appearance by a real-life literary classic late in the third act in a wink to the some of the novel’s obvious inspiration) while leaving the door (and more than a few unearthly portals) open for her further supernatural escapades.

Purchase Netherworld by Lisa Morton. 

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