Tim Powers is for me a writer whose development is more obvious than a lot of others. I cringe reading such early efforts as An Epitaph in Rust and The Drawing of the Dark. One can see a wonderful imagination on the page, but not the talent to execute on a line by line basis. In The Anubis Gates, On Stranger Tides, and Dinner at Deviant’s Palace a synthesis starts to be seen. I daresay The Stress of Her Regard (1989) is the transition point from those novels to where we see Powers today, as Last Call and the novels which follow feature the author in his best form. Thankfully, unique imagination has remained a constant throughout.
The Stress of Her Regard was Powers’ most ambitious novel to date. Daring to feature some of the English language’s most renowned poets as primary characters—Bryon, Shelley, and Keats among them—the resulting storyline tells of a British doctor, Michael Crawford, and the bad luck he has while out drinking the night before his wedding. Accidentally leaving his ring on a statue, he returns the next day to find the object now clenched in a stone fist, unable to be loosened. All goes well in the wedding, however, that is until the next morning when Crawford awakes to find his new bride’s body mutilated in terrifying fashion beside him. A whole world of dark horrors slowly unveiling itself in the aftermath, Crawford escapes Britain, but does so into the arms of a creature which would rather have him dead. Cognizant of the lamia’s true power, he turns to British poets who are traveling the continent for help. Trouble is, they too are haunted in their own way.