One of the most revered literary figures in history, Lord Byron was celebrated in life for aristocratic excesses including huge debts, numerous love affairs, and self-imposed exile. In The White Devil,
Justin Evans adds his own unique interpretation of the infamous poet’s desperate search for love.
Byron’s reckless disregard for those around him resounds most throughout this bloody and gothic tale, a specter-laden hallucination that sizzles with vengeful objectives.
In a bizarre plot
at times as dark and impenetrable as a shield of diamonds, a series of murders in London’s Harrow School for boys rock the life of American Andrew Taylor, who has come to the school under orders from his father. Andrew’s history of drug abuse coupled with a troubled past have led his father to conclude that Harrow’s esteemed reputation and “stamp of quality” will be just what Andrew needs.
Shown around by Theo, a fellow student, Andrew has a sense of having crashed someone else’s family vacation. There’s all the squabbles and hatreds of the boys’ prolonged habitation, the taut English faces, and the centuries-old traditions of dress and name where homosexuality is seen as the greatest of sins. With
dusty old name plaques stacked against the ancient walls, the hallways seem to throb with atmosphere, the whole place hiding a dark and furtive history.
Andrew is now more isolated than ever before in this school of ancient
secrets. Somehow the days pass and he keeps to himself, attending to his studies, meeting Persephone Vine, the Housemaster’s daughter. Andrew feels his heart accelerating, at once enchanted by this dark and chaotic girl, her hair constantly “curling in corkscrews.”
Andrew bears an uncanny likeness to the infamous Lord Byron. When leading poet-in-residence Piers Fawkes asks Andrew to play Lord Byron in his new play
in verse, Andrew jumps at the chance, the play rollicking more fun than he could
ever have expected. But from the basement corridors of Harrow to the inside of a
century-old cistern, the white devil returns, doomed and cursed. Andrew, like a “Byronic young man,” is brooding and fated, forced to bear a burden of unspeakable sins.
Central to Andrew’s trepidation is the afternoon atop isolated Harrow-on-the Hill, where as the “air growls and barks” he sees a man straddling another man, the attacker’s face horrifying with shrunken eye sockets and vivid blue flesh protruding, the skin moribund gray, the boy almost white, albino-looking, and the cough, “like the bark of a sick animal with a wet slapping sound.” Then there’s image in the showers, the boy now in a claw-footed tub and Andrew’s screaming and the monstrous apprehension of what is about to happen.
Although the novel grows a bit ponderous toward the end, the tone is suitably sinister as Andrew moves through netherworlds of tuberculosis, blood, and spine-chilling encounters with the bizarre skeletal man. Fawkes and Persephone provide the only voice of comfort as Andrew’s reality warps and the wild, desperate wolf, the ghost of a boyfriend past, begins his monstrous, nightmarish revenge.