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In the wake of their Aunt Amity's suicide, Scott and Madeline Madden are summoned to Caveat, the eerie, decaying mansion in the Hollywood hills in which they were raised. But their decadent and reclusive cousins, the malicious wheelchair-bound Claimayne and his sister, Ariel, do not welcome Scott and Madeline's return to the childhood home they once shared. While Scott desperately wants to go back to their shabby south of Sunset lives, he cannot pry his sister away from this old house that is a conduit for the supernatural.
Decorated by bits salvaged from old hotels and movie sets, Caveat hides a dark family secret that stretches back to the golden days of Rudolph Valentino and the silent film stars. A collection of hypnotic abstract images inked on paper allows the Maddens to briefly fragment and flatten time - to transport themselves into the past and future in visions that are both puzzling and terrifying.
As Madeline falls more completely under Caveat's spell, Scott must fight to protect her. But will he unravel the mystery of the Madden family's past and finally free them. . . or be pulled deeper into their deadly web?
Reviewed by Catherynne M. ValenteA new Tim Powers novel is always cause for excitement. His latest is a twisted journey through time travel, possession, old Hollywood, addiction, and familial violence that promises much and, mostly, delivers. Medusa's Web is a book of mirrors and doubles, falling somewhere between a Tennessee Williams play and a Nancy Drew mystery. It centers on two sets of siblings the forlorn orphans Scott and Madeline and their cousins Ariel, a recovering addict, and Claimayne, a cruel recluse. All four were raised together in a sprawling, crumbling mansion called Caveat in the Hollywood Hills, and all of them share a family secret, a set of arcane drawings known as spiders that, with a single glance, allow one to travel back and forth in time between the present day and the golden age of Hollywood. The time travel is more of an exchange program: the traveler inhabits the bodies of men and women of the 1920s and '30s, while their spirits are transported into the body of the traveler. Such journeys have become a passionate, secretive cult within the elite of Los Angeles over the decades and destroyed many lives, as the pleasures of possession prove irresistible but bad for a person's health. When Claimayne and Ariel's mother dies under extremely dramatic circumstances, the prodigals all return to the roost to uncover her mysterious past and face their own profound attraction to the spiders. The first half of the novel is claustrophobic and self-referential, a close hothouse exploration of household dynamics that drops us into the deep end of a complex family without a life jacket. There's a realism to it the family knows its own ins and outs and doesn't waste time explaining them. But the complication of the time-traveling spiders means the reader is left to flail in a baffling sea of characters in both 2015 and 1920 until the middle of the book, when the set pieces finally fall into place and the action kicks into high gear. The first half of this split narrative slowly explores obliquely expressed emotions, and the second jettisons the deeper themes of obsession, love, and addiction in favor of a breakneck race toward resolution, complete with several car chases showcasing an intimate, though occasionally comically obsessive, knowledge of Los Angeles geography.Any time Powers lets his spiders take us back into Old Hollywood, delights abound. Silent film stars come to commanding, marvelous life, from Rudolph Valentino popping in for a surprisingly pivotal role to the captivating Alla Nazimova, who could fill a whole novel on her own. Medusa's Web struggles with making its present-day protagonists half as mesmerizing as the denizens of silent studios and those who fixate on them, and it only succeeds toward the end but it ultimately does succeed. By the time the credits roll, the villain has crystallized into a dark portrait of selfishness and contorted love, the heroes have earned grace notes of surprising beauty, and you will never see Salom quite the same way again.Catherynne M. Valente's latest novel, Radiance, is just out from Tor Books.