A Terrible Beauty

terrible_beauty_nointro    FEB 2014 NEWS

The new e-book edition will be coming out in March 2014 from ChiZine Publications, complete with a new cover.



A Terrible Beauty: Jacket copy

ATerribleBeauty“Will you give me your blood to drink, even though you die of it?”

A past betrayal returns to haunt Simon Donovan, a frail and dying scholar of antiquities, when the woman he wronged summons him to come to her secluded northern home. To spare his father, Matthew Donovan, a struggling painter, undertakes the journey, not knowing that it will take him into the remote reaches of the wilderness and the darkest regions of his heart.

In a fantastic mansion, Matthew meets the mysterious Sidonie Moreau, whose secrets run deeper than the ancient mountains that surround them.  Simultaneously fascinated and disturbed by her, he tries to discover what she hides … and what she wants from him.

Then in one night of terrible revelation, he learns the answer — nothing less than his life’s blood, yielded willingly.  She promises that he will not be harmed, that he is free to do as he pleases, but every night she will ask for his blood and he must answer.  Trapped by the vast wilderness around them, Matthew has no choice but to submit to her terms.  Every day, he struggles to exorcise the nightmares that haunt him, giving them form and colour on his canvas.  Every night, he must once again face his immortal captor.

He vows that he will never surrender to her.  But as the nights pass, he comes to realise that there are things more dangerous than her inhuman appearance and deadly need.  There is the sorrow in her eyes, the strange curve of her smile, and her complex, compelling charm.  There are the secrets submerged deep in his own heart.  Soon he knows that the unthinkable is possible; that one night, tempted by desire and despair, he might say yes …

In an extraordinary reworking of one of the most beloved and popular fairy tales of all time, the acclaimed author of The Night Inside and Blood and Chrysanthemums creates a stunning new mythology, a heart-stopping tale of suspense, and an unforgettably beautiful love story.

“He did not know if he could hammer a stake into her heart.  He did not want to find out for certain that he could not.” — written by NB

A Terrible Beauty: Publication History

Canada: Trade Paperback, 1996
Paperback, 1997

Germany:  Paperback, Der Vamp, Ullstein, 1997

A Terrible Beauty: Reviews

(selected and edited by the author.  As an aside, almost all female reviewers of this book understood exactly what the source fairy tale was – almost none of the male reviewers recognized it.)

“A polished and enchanting tale… It is, in a word, breathtaking.”
The Ottawa Citizen

“Baker’s prose is lush and sensual…she has a real gift for making the fantastic seem plausible and investing the mundane with eerie significance.”
The Sunday Sun (Toronto)  

“A Terrible Beauty is modern Canadian Gothic … Nancy Baker shows her mastery of the form – the mysterious letter, the journey into the wilderness, the shadows that hide from the flickering firelight – and her real affection for a good ol’ fashioned vampire yarn.”
The Telegraph Journal (Saint John)

“Baker’s narrative is seductive and compelling.  Like Rice, she transcends the horror genre.”
Province Showcase (Vancouver)

“Don’t hold your breath waiting for Disney to film this very adult and erotic version of Beauty and the Beast.”
Winnipeg Free Press

A Terrible Beauty: Notes

I’ve always been fascinated by the Beauty and the Beast story.  As a child, it was my favorite fairy tale, engendering both emotional satisfaction and a queasy sort of excitement at the dark sexuality I could sense, even if I didn’t know what it was.

In later years, the tale tied very neatly into my tendency to want to reverse the genders in stories I wrote.  My heroines tended to near-pathological violence, my heroes to wit and compassion.  I don’t remember the moment that I realized that the perfect female beast for a story would be a vampire but I knew right away that it was exactly what I wanted to write for my next book.

Research for this book was a great deal of fun.  I went to Casa Loma and Spadina House, two historical sites in Toronto.  I watched “America’s Castles” on A & E.  I looked at floor plans of palaces all over the world.  I read about the Gilded Age in New York and the massive Long Island estates of the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers.

Once I decided that Matthew was a painter, I had to take an oil painting course.  I have virtually no talent for art and quickly fell back on the classic Neil Young line, “That’s my style, man”, to compensate for my inability to make bottles look like bottles.

I found all the paintings and psychology I could need in Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture, a fascinating book by Bram Dijkstra.  (It’s interesting how many images from fantasy fiction are influenced by the styles and themes found in this book.  Even knowing this background, I still find some of the paintings beautiful and powerful.)

In determining what shape my female “beast” should take, it seemed to me that men fear female beauty more than ugliness. Ugly women are mocked and dismissed, made invisible in the world.  Beautiful women are desired and that desire gives them power, makes them dangerous.  Sidonie is capable of taking on many guises but her natural one is alien, inhuman.  Whether a man sees beauty or horror there is up to him.

Of my three novels, this was by far the easiest one to write.  The Night Inside took seven years, Blood and Chrysanthemums took a year and a half, and A Terrible Beauty took 6 months.

Strangely enough, when the time came for it to be published, I hated it.  I didn’t want to talk about it, I didn’t want a launch party, I was convinced it was going to be a huge failure. I was already well into the writer’s block with which I continue to struggle.

That said, I am very fond of the book now.  There are books I love and re-read over and over, usually in the bathtub.  I set out to write one of those books and I hope that somewhere out there, someone has it on a shelf reserved for their “bathtub books”.

Musical note: The soundtrack to this one was Fumbling Towards Ecstasy by Sarah Mclachlan.