Paperback: 312 pages – Immanion Press; New Ed edition (30 Jan 2008)
In the far, far future the end of the world is nigh. Most humans left many centuries before. The plague is abroad and no-one is immune from its putrefied touch. Technology is gone; sorcery and divination are the only guides for hapless souls who remain, hungry but anxious to foretell their destiny. In this tumultuous landscape a young diver, Lysariel, becomes obsessed with a strange luminous red coral that he discovered in a cave beneath the sea. His plans to prove its existence to his sceptical uncle are somewhat scuppered when he is suddenly crowned king of Scleracina and his brother Manazzoryn becomes next in line to the throne. The pair are delighted to be introduced to two charming girls, daughters of pirate princes, who they hastily betroth. But such frivolity and joy are fleeting glimmers of happiness, for there are wider political and spiritual forces at work that threaten to destroy the kingdom. Infatuated by his young bride Calia, King Lysariel determines that a statue should be sculpted from the magical coral as a tribute to her beauty. From the moment the mystical material is dragged from the ocean’s depths things start to go very, very wrong. Parts of this grim future have been predicted by Giraiazal, practitioner of astrology and cartomancy, a morpheomorphist (who can shape the dreams of others) and wily devil who has found himself in the position of Grand Vizier of Scleracina, more by luck than judgement. However, it’s really not at all in Giraiazal’s interests to foretell a future of doom and gloom.
Curse of the Coral Bride is a gothic novel of tragedy and betrayal with a smattering of horror set against the backdrop of a dying world. These are dark times and Stableford describes his characters in such a way as to keep their motivations slightly masked from view, save for his protagonist Giraiazal whose chief goal is survival, which is not easy to achieve in a world that is no longer enlightened, but threatened with anarchy and despair. But one thing that remains, despite the denizens knowing of their imminent doom, the will to power still binds those with the authority to see through their treacherous intent. This, then, is a tale about the lust for power set against a backdrop of fear and superstition.
The book’s structure is linear, and each chapter preceded with an extract from The Revelations of Suomynona, the Last Prophet, which ranges from the informative to the whimsical, explaining the various divination practices or philosophising about the end of the world. This has the effect of bringing a more rounded vision of the world to the reader without impinging on the central narrative, but can break the flow of the story, in some cases jarringly so. But this is a minor quibble, Curse of the Coral Bride is an exciting and intriguing read, drawing the reader into its strange world through its deliberately archaic use of language and turn of phrase. A gothic fantasy that feels at home aside The Castle of Otranto in tone and brooding, doomed romance.