Friday, January 17, 2020

Dark Shadows: The Salem Branch by: Lara Parker

The publication history of Dark Shadows is an interesting one.  Angelique’s Descent was originally published by HarperCollins Publishing in 1998, with a follow up not by Lara Parker in 1999 before publishing stopped.  It wasn’t until 2006, the same year Big Finish Productions began producing Dark Shadows audio dramas, did Lara Parker return to write a second Dark Shadows novel.  The Salem Branch is a very different novel to Angelique’s Descent, still including many flashbacks, this time to Salem, 1692, doing another take on The Crucible but with Miranda du Val as its central character and explaining Angelique as a reincarnation of the woman, retconning bits of the 1840 story arc from the show where let’s be honest Dan Curtis had run his writers dry in redoing bits of literature that Curtis liked.  Parker’s take on The Crucible takes out the affair and makes du Val somehow both the victim and perpetrator, implying an unreliable narrator at points.  This section of the book is the weak point as while the flashbacks are better integrated in the novel without a framing story and the two plotlines do end up matching up at the end of the book, it’s a lot of stuff that viewers of Dark Shadows will have seen before and done better before.  Judah Zachary is kind of an interesting character, a powerful warlock who is beheaded in the end and his head becomes an eventual plot point in the television story, but here honestly he is far too boring as presented here.

The actual driving force behind the novel is the present day storyline with the now cured Barnabas Collins becoming emotionally restless as he has to deal with the fact that he is now, very probably, fully human.  There’s genuinely this internal struggle, as Parker uses Barnabas’ experience with having to eat food and deal with the fact that after so long he can be hurt.  This emotional outlet is something that never really was explored on television and the audios reestablish him as a vampire (because of course this is never actually going to be permanent, it’s Barnabas), both going under the mostly accurate theory that Barnabas’ appeal comes from his vampiric nature.  The Salem Branch may just be the exception that proves the rule, because the inner turmoil is brought into an outlet as Barnabas spends much of the novel obsessed with the woman responsible for buying and restoring to its near exact condition, whom he believes is the reincarnation of Angelique because she looks like Angelique.  Antoinette, or Toni as she is referred to in the novel, creates an excellent foil and allows Barnabas to be shown in an incredibly paranoid light.  Parker clearly understands that Barnabas Collins is not a good person and his obsession here is perfectly portrayed as both Julia and Quentin both attempt to affirm to Barnabas that she isn’t Angelique.  Sure her daughter is eventually revealed to be a reincarnation of Miranda du Val and is in love with David Collins, whom she promises not to harm as long as they’re together, but she’s completely innocent.

While Barnabas is the A-plot, the B-plot of the novel in the present day is dealing with a bunch of hippies allowed to live on the Collins land.  This is the part of the novel which leads directly into the climax and the hippies themselves are genuinely an interesting group of people.  It really allows both Roger, David, and Carolyn something to do.  David and Carolyn both partake of their rituals while Roger spends much of the novel being over the top about wishing to get them off the Collins land, even though he has no real way of doing that.  There’s also this added danger of two vampires wandering around the land, attacking and slowly bringing Barnabas back to his curse which adds some great tension.  The only issue with the present day storyline here is that Julia, while getting a subtle storyline throughout which gets revealed near the end, really doesn’t have as much to do which is a shame as Parker excels at writing these present day characters.  Overall, The Salem Branch is a marked improvement over Angelique’s Descent and makes for a great bit of Dark Shadows fun.  8/10.

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