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Dark Ladies [Paperback]

Fritz Leiber
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 348 pages
  • Publisher: St Martin's Press; 1st Orb Ed edition (31 Dec 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031286972X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312869724
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 13.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,210,487 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless writing that's bang upto date. 9 Mar 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The two stories in this book despite being over forty years apart are closely linked by a common theme.
CONJURE WIFE : Being of a scientific inclination Norman Saylor is unconvinced by his wife, Tansy, that her secret conjurings are in any way pertinent to their lives within a small-town college environment, and that his success to date, has been due to his academic endeavours. So Tansy being the good wife she is, and in a moment of self doubt, disposes of her hoard of graveyard dirt, pieces of hair, scraps of metal, and dried herbs, etc. At first nothing seems to change, as Norman had insisted it wouldn't, but as Tansy had hitherto believed, the Saylors become the target of the other wives' ambitions - especially Mrs Carr's.
To begin with, Norman's moral conduct is questioned by some his colleagues in an attempt to discredit him, then the family cat, Totem, is brutally killed. But Norman, the unbeliever, ignores the get-out-of-town advice, and has his life threatened by Tansy whose soul has been taken over by the other wives.
By this time Norman begins to consider the notion of witchcraft more seriously, and applies himself to a steep learning curve in order to outsmart the other wives and so get Tansy's soul back to where it belongs.
In hindsight it seems that Norman was being used as a way to get at Tansy so that he would convince her to shed herself of her protections and so become vulnerable to the other wives' combined attack. For it turns out that they knew, though Tansy didn't, that Tansy was the most powerful of them all.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliantly written, horror, masterpiece. 30 Mar 2000
By S Smyth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The two stories in this book despite being over forty years apart are closely linked by a common theme.
CONJURE WIFE : Being of a scientific inclination Norman Saylor is unconvinced by his wife, Tansy, that her secret conjurings are in any way pertinent to their lives within a small-town college environment, and that his success to date, has been due to his academic endeavours. So Tansy being the good wife she is, and in a moment of self doubt, disposes of her hoard of graveyard dirt, pieces of hair, scraps of metal, and dried herbs, etc. At first nothing seems to change, as Norman had insisted it wouldn't, but as Tansy had hitherto believed, the Saylors become the target of the other wives' ambitions - especially Mrs Carr's.
To begin with, Norman's moral conduct is questioned by some his colleagues in an attempt to discredit him, then the family cat, Totem, is brutally killed. But Norman, the unbeliever, ignores the get-out-of-town advice, and has his life threatened by Tansy whose soul has been taken over by the other wives.
By this time Norman begins to consider the notion of witchcraft more seriously, and applies himself to a steep learning curve in order to outsmart the other wives and so get Tansy's soul back to where it belongs.
In hindsight it seems that Norman was being used as a way to get at Tansy so that he would convince her to shed herself of her protections and so become vulnerable to the other wives' combined attack. For it turns out that they knew, though Tansy didn't, that Tansy was the most powerful of them all.
OUR LADY OF DARKNESS: Franz Westen, a writer who converts `Weird Underground' television episodes into novels, falls prey to a curse put upon another - Clark Ashton Smith - by the long dead founder of Megapolisomancy, Thibaut de Castries. This is a consequence of three chance happenings: the buying of a book in a second-hand shop inside which Thibaut de Castries has secreted the curse between lightly gummed together pages; the taking up of residence at 607 Rhodes, a room in an apartment building that had been lived in by Thibaut de Castries and frequented by Clark Ashton Smith, and concealed within the walls of which is hidden another text -`The Fifty Cipher'; and the viewing of a brown robed figure on the peak of Corona heights - a hilltop directly in front of Franz Westen's living room window.
In today's terms this is horror in the style of The Blair Witch Project. A story permeated by a sense of menacing creepiness.
Our Lady of Darkness continues one of the, forty years earlier, themes of Conjure Wife; that women are possessed of the power of witchcraft to a greater or lesser degree, so creating the linkage for this pairing. As is usual for Fritz Leiber, the writing is tremendously slick.
I really enjoyed this book, and have read it three times already.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eerie and unsettling---"Conjure Wife" is a horror gem. 25 Jun 2003
By Dark Mechanicus JSG - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Let's cut to the chase: if you like tautly paced little terror tales loaded with atmosphere, then you should buy "Dark Ladies."
Fritz Leiber was a Grand Master of Fantasy and Terror fiction, and I pretty much grew up on the sly and cynical exploits of his Sword & Sworcery adventurers Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser. Leiber's stories seemed to my adolescent mind to be more worldly, more sophisticated, than the Conan or Tarl Cabot sagas I devoured when I was 12; Fafhrd and the Mouser were themselves street-smart and cunning, dispatching mortal and demonic foes with a style and alacrity usually lacking in other Sword & Sorcery epics.
Leiber brought that same sense of style and airiness of prose to his terror tales as well, and "Dark Ladies" is a fine example of his literary wizardry over the span of three decades: the book contains two superlative tales of sorcery and the malevolently supernatural intruding into modern life, "Conjure Wife" (written in 1943) and "Our Lady of Darkness" (1978). Both tales are linked by the thread of sorcery, to be sure, but are also reflective of Leiber's tremendous debt to both H.P. Lovecraft and M.R. James: they are heavily atmospheric, pulse with ghostly malevolence, and have at their center unassuming, mild-mannered scholarly protagonists who are unwittingly and reluctantly drawn into dark adventures.
I must confess that I read "Conjure Wife" last, anticipating that it wouldn't be very interesting. It deals with Norman Saylor, a senior professor of Sociology at a small university in rural New Jersey who discovers his wife is a witch. As a rational thinker, Saylor is appalled, and orders his wife to give up her sorcery immediately; she does so, and the fun begins. From the premise, I wasn't very excited; the story seemed a little too "Bewitched" to be scary.
I'm happy to report that I was wrong, and "Conjure Wife" is one of the nastiest, most riveting, and frightening little gems of pure horror ever written. The kind of tale that has you glancing nervously at dark corners, "Conjure Wife" was a pleasure to read, though the ending came far too quickly and left me wanting more.
"Our Lady of Darkness", surprisingly, is the weaker tale of the two, though it was equally atmospheric. San Francisco horror writer Franz Westen, looking at the ragged hilltop of Corona Heights through binoculars, spies a pale, lean, brownish figure cavorting on the hill, which appears to wave at him. The next day he hikes up to the hill; finding no one there, he turns the binoculars on his apartment, two miles away; to his horror the figure appears in his own window, waving back at him!
This tale is erudite and exciting, and plunges Westen into the occult theories of Thibaut de Castries, who lived in San Francisco at the turn of the century and was at the center of a secret society of famous writers, including Jack London and Clark Ashton Smith. More interesting, the story delves into de Castries' notions of megapolisomancy, the theory that cities conjure up unhealthy and malignant energies of their own. Poor Westen has drawn the attention of such a creature, and the tale becomes a kind of scholarly cat and mouse.
Like "Conjure Wife", "Our Lady of Darkness" ends far too swiftly, and leaves the reader wanting more. I would imagine that's a fairly insignificant criticism, and it's certainly better to leave a reader wanting more than the reverse. "Our Lady of Darkness" is also a studied homage to the works of both M.R. James and H.P. Lovecraft, though his tale fails to achieve the soul-curdling terror of either of those masters.
That said, if you're looking for the perfect spooky book to curl up with beside a roaring fire (preferably with a sleeping cat on the other sofa, and lightning flashing outside), then "Dark Ladies" is for you.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless writing that's bang up to date. 18 Mar 2000
By S Smyth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The two stories in this book despite being over forty years apart are closely linked by a common theme.
CONJURE WIFE : Being of a scientific inclination Norman Saylor is unconvinced by his wife, Tansy, that her secret conjurings are in any way pertinent to their lives within a small-town college environment, and that his success to date, has been due to his academic endeavours. So Tansy being the good wife she is, and in a moment of self doubt, disposes of her hoard of graveyard dirt, pieces of hair, scraps of metal, and dried herbs, etc. At first nothing seems to change, as Norman had insisted it wouldn't, but as Tansy had hitherto believed, the Saylors become the target of the other wives' ambitions - especially Mrs Carr's.
To begin with, Norman's moral conduct is questioned by some his colleagues in an attempt to discredit him, then the family cat, Totem, is brutally killed. But Norman, the unbeliever, ignores the get-out-of-town advice, and has his life threatened by Tansy whose soul has been taken over by the other wives.
By this time Norman begins to consider the notion of witchcraft more seriously, and applies himself to a steep learning curve in order to outsmart the other wives and so get Tansy's soul back to where it belongs.
In hindsight it seems that Norman was being used as a way to get at Tansy so that he would convince her to shed herself of her protections and so become vulnerable to the other wives' combined attack. For it turns out that they knew, though Tansy didn't, that Tansy was the most powerful of them all. OUR LADY OF DARKNESS: Franz Westen, a writer who converts `Weird Underground' television episodes into novels, falls prey to a curse put upon another - Clark Ashton Smith - by the long dead founder of Megapolisomancy, Thibaut de Castries. This is a consequence of three chance happenings: the buying of a book in a second-hand shop inside which Thibaut de Castries has secreted the curse* between lightly gummed together pages; the taking up of residence at 607 Rhodes, a room in an apartment building that had been lived in by Thibaut de Castries and frequented by Clark Ashton Smith, and concealed within the walls of which is hidden another text -`The Fifty Cipher'; and the viewing of a brown robed figure on the peak of Corona heights - a hilltop directly in front of Franz Westen's living room window.
In today's terms this is horror in the style of The Blair Witch Project. A story permeated by a sense of menacing creepiness, instead of a graphic gorefest.
Our Lady of Darkness continues one of the, forty years earlier, themes of Conjure Wife; that women are possessed of the power of witchcraft to a greater or lesser degree, so creating the linkage for this pairing. As is usual for Fritz Leiber, the writing is tremendously slick; so much so, that I can't think of anyone in the horror field at present who could pull off what has been done here. It would take a writer capable of good literary prose such as Ian Banks, Nicholson Baker, or C.J. Cherryh to match it. And since that isn't likely to happen any time soon, I would recommend that anyone interested in what can be done with the horror genre, should get their hands on these stories before they go out of print.
And to the publishers, TOR: I prefer the previous design; the Wayne Barlowe cover. Its more sophisticated artwork compliments the stories better. Maybe it could be made available as a hardback like the `Dealings of Daniel Kesserich'. It'd be worth the price, if not more so. * `A CURSE upon Master Clark Ashton Smith and all his heirs, who thought to pick my brain and slip away, false fleeting agent of my old enemies. Upon him the Long Death, the paramental agony! When he strays back as all men do. The fulcrum (0) and the Cipher (A) shall be here, at his beloved 607 Rhodes. I'll be at rest in my appointed spot (1) under the Bishop's seat, the heaviest ashes that he ever felt. Then when the weights are on at Sutro Mount (4) and Monkey Clay(5) [(4) + (1) = (5)] BE his Life squeezed Away. Committed to Cipher in my 50- book (A). Go out, my little book (B) into the world, and lie in wait in stalls and lurk on shelves for the unwary purchaser. Go out, my little book, and break some necks!' TdC
Beat that, Stephen - the master spellbinder; the Bard of Bangor - King!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Two seminal horror classics for the price of one 30 Mar 2007
By Alan Draven - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Fritz Leiber's Dark Ladies collects his two best novels: Conjure Wife (1943) and Our Lady of Darkness (1978).

In Conjure wife, Professor Norman Saylor's career is going well and things just seem to be getting better. When he discovers that his wife, Tansy, is in fact a witch (not a mean one, but a witch nonetheless), his career and life will plummet in a downward spiral. Upon confronting her with the situation, she tells him that she was doing it for him, to protect him from the other professors' wives that also happened to be conjurors. After destroying all the charms she had to protect him, Norman soon wishes he'd listened to his wife.

Conjure Wife is a great tale of witchcraft with very interesting and weird characters. Leiber's writing here isn't dated a bit (keep in mind that this novel was written over 60 years ago!). Norman's wife, Tansy, is a good witch and as the story progresses, it becomes obvious that she only did what she did with the best intentions. Everybody's a suspect in this one; and when the bewildering climax comes, you'll be left in awe at Leiber's skills for pulling a one-two punch at you.

Our Lady of Darkness has a very eerie premise: A horror writer, Franz Westen, happens to peer outside his apartment window with his binoculars and sees a lanky figure dancing atop a hill, waving at him a few miles from where he lives. Curious, Franz decides to walk over to the hill and find out more about this strange character. Once there, by looking through his binoculars in the distance, he sees the same figure--this time waving at him from his apartment window! Franz will embark on a search for answers to find out who--or what--this bizarre figure is.

What a uniquely creepy idea; I was hooked with the four-line synopsis alone! Leiber's writing has matured considerably since Conjure Wife, 35 years earlier, and it shows. His skill at reeling you in and leaving you hanging on his every word is astonishing. At first, you're wondering why he's going off in the direction he chose to go, thinking he's losing his momentum, but as the story unfolds, you'll see that he's planned every detail with the meticulousness of a master storyteller. With references to Aleister Crowley and a multitude of mentions of the great H.P. Lovecraft, this tale of Dark Fantasy is a true classic.

Overall, you can't miss with this book. These two short novels are a fast and suspenseful read. The book is worth its price for Our Lady of Darkness alone. If you like enthralling stories, tales of witchcraft or clever Dark Fantasy; then you've come to the right place.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It Was Another Dark & Stormy Night 9 July 2013
By FYI - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fritz Leiber (1910-1992) was influenced by Robert Graves (1895-1985), H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), and Carl Jung (1875-1961), and in turn influenced a number of other writers, including Harlan Ellison, and won numerous awards. I live in a city blighted with foreclosed, empty apartments, where shadows lie behind dusty window blinds. All that is left is a legacy of debt impacting neighbors; our view consists of their abandoned space. Perhaps that is a reason why the imagery in Leiber's autobiographical novella "Our Lady of Darkness" (1977) still haunts, years after reading this collection. Set in 1970s era San Francisco, Franz Western is an amateur astronomer struggling with grief over the death of his wife, an ambiguous relationship with a younger woman who lives in his building, and most compelling, a "paramental" creature that shadows his apartment and stalks his life. San Francisco is vividly depicted; the city essentially is another character. Successful fiction creates a believable, credible reality; Leiber excelled at making the implausible feel real, without outlandish flourishes. He is subtle in the tradition of the best gothic-horror fiction, when the ordinary is transformed into something close to familiar, yet "off." In Leiber's world, "paramentals" are elemental spirits that are created out of the stuff of cities, the dust, used newspapers, the dull remnants of civilization; they utilize this inanimate material to physically manifest themselves.

Franz fights to find balance, and resist succumbing to his loneliness and despair. Locations include Corona Heights and the Sutro TV Tower; familiar landmarks are subverted in Leiber's spooky celebration of San Francisco. I recall one especially memorable scene in the book, when Franz escapes his apartment; looking back though his binoculars, he can see the elemental shape moving inside, behind the blinds, watching him ... and waving.

Even to rational, sensible people, a touch of the ghostly, of mystery, can be oddly hopeful. To quote Shakespeare's Hamlet, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Mystery is a good thing! In that light, I'll share a real story: One miserable, cold winter, when darkness turned on the year's cusp, we had to stay one chill, stormy night in an old hotel in Washington state. On a hill above the sea, its turrets dripped with icicles; once, it had been a private manor-house. Snow fell on the ocean's waves, and shadowed the icy streets, few people were traveling. After a calamitous family catastrophe, and subsequent long, sad journey, we were exhausted, but the hotel's noisy guests stomped and banged all night, and kept us awake till the wee hours. Eerily, after hearing slamming along the corridor and overhead in the tower attic, when we opened the door and looked out, no one was there. The next morning, bleary-eyed and glad to make our escape, we checked-out and complained about all the racket. The owner's face turned white. She said that we were the only guests that night. Years later, we were shocked to see a documentary discussing that memorable lodging's particular room, and its tragic, haunted history. Ah well, life really may be stranger than fiction, unless you're reading a classic tale by Fritz Leiber.

The companion novella, "The Conjure Wife" is a decent story, set in in the vicious world of academia, though it's not as evocative as "Our Lady of Darkness." I suggest the lesser known, but beautifully written The Conjure-Man Dies: A Mystery Tale of Dark Harlem (1932), by Rudolph Fisher (1897-1934), vividly set in New York City's Harlem in the 1920s. This is our nation's first mystery novel by an African-American. Fisher was a physician who tragically died from a botched abdominal surgery, but his writing lives on.
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