"Dark Dance" is an early foray into horror for fantasy author Tanith Lee. I've never read any of her books, and I bought "Dark Dance" based on the cover description and the fact that the novel was published by the excellent, short-lived Abyss Horror (Dell) label. The Abyss Horror books were released in the early 90s, and introduced me to several quality horror novelists and stories. A shame it didn't catch on.
This eerie tale begins with Rachela, a young twenty-something woman with some issues. She lives her life working jobs that go nowhere, and is haunted by her memories and personal demons, the most demonic of which was her mother. Mother kept Rachela under a clamp, molding her into a hermitesque life, while reinforcing the fact that Rachela was NOT to associate with her unknown father and his family. Rachela, of course, thinks her mother is a nut, and has been (almost) content since she died.
Then the summons arrives.
Her father's clan, the Scarabae family, has sent a messenger to find Rachela and offer her a chance to live in the family mansion deep in the English countryside. Rachela is stubborn and independent, and refuses the offer as long as she can. Fate seems to take over at that point, and she finds herself making the journey out of London and toward her destiny.
There are a couple of reasons why I won't expand very much more on the plot. Number one is a fear of spoilers. Number two: this novel tells a long story, but is slow in developing, meaning that certain plotlines shouldn't be spoken here for fear of giving away the whole novel. I will say that the Scarabae clan is strange, ancient, detached from reality, and never leave their home. Rachela has a love-hate relationship with them and in particular her father Adamus. The Scarabae wish to continue their family line, and it just wouldn't do to poison the bloodline with any "outsiders"...
The story takes place over a long period of time, with excellent usage of sinister prose combined with a sense of building horror. Ms. Lee has a style not unlike Anne Rice, and builds her own reality as the story dictates. This book is not as realistic as some would like, but I appreciate the fact that Lee does not waste time dwelling on the small stuff. The tale is told with the detail required to advance the plot with no padded filler.
I couldn't put this book down. It captivated me all the way though, although it could have had a little bit more detail regarding the Scarabae and the history of this bizarre family. The ending worked for me. The book has little "shock" horror, but makes up for it with general creepiness. The characters all seem to be detached from the events around them, and I thought the characters could have expressed more personal horror during their journey of the damned. Still, "Dark Dance" rates a firm 4 star rating from me.