Domysticated's Rec of the Week: 6/27 - 7/3

June 28, 2011

The Dark Muse by Alby Mangroves
Review by Domysticated

Rating: M
Genre: Angst/Suspense
Characters: Edward/Bella

Summary: Safely numb, Marie has never had to question choices made so long ago. Until now. A chain of events has her running back to face truths, and the person she'd rather had stayed buried. Herself. AH, Angst, Suspense, Hurt/Comfort, Romance

Wusspervs beware: at the heart of this story is, as the title suggests, darkness. A darkness so deep, so twisted, so suffocating it leaves the reader feeling disoriented and breathless right from the very beginning.

If you like your rainbows and hearts wrapped up neatly and uncomplicated, and your angst safely blanketed by layers and layers of fluff, this might not be the story for you.

Having said that, this is also one of the most original, challenging and simply beautiful fics I’ve read in a long, long time- and the rewards of reading it so deep and unexpected that it would be a real shame to miss it.

There’s a Bella who’s not yet a Bella- she’s Marie, and she lives her life with a growing sense of panic and detachment. Marie is being watched- we don’t know by whom, or why, although we sense it’s something or someone sinister and malicious.

“He steps inside Marie's apartment and leans his back against the door, closing it behind him. His steps are sure as he walks to her bedroom and slides open the wardrobe doors. He inspects her clothes, sliding his palm between the folds of dresses and inhaling the lovely scent of her.

His eyes pan down to find what he wants: the black knee-high leather boots. He removes them from the wardrobe and places them neatly beside her nightstand where she can't miss them. He briefly contemplates placing her trench coat on her bed as well, but doesn't want to spoil the subtle effect. He understands that sometimes, less is more. The boots are perfect, standing upright against the wall like they're full of her legs.

A flash of inspiration bursts in his mind and he wants her to wear the boots when he finally owns her, when she's perfectly still and just so right and complete and his.”

She carries with her a heavy, traumatized past and lives a present so lonely and forlorn it makes her wonder whether there is such a thing as a future. She is fragmented, dissociated; she wears a mask (literally) to project a different image and to shield herself. Once the mask is gone she doesn’t know what to do with herself, she doesn’t think she deserves anything at all.

“Perhaps once he opens his mouth, it will be clear that he is insipid, a pale shadow of the promise his strong profile makes when appraised. Perhaps he is a thief, or worse.

She snorts under her breath. She is the 'worse.'”

This loneliness, this despair, is, however, what makes her human, what allows her to float over the sordid elements of her daily life and maintain a strange kind of integrity and innocence: she does those things, but she is not those things.

“My hands are not fast or nimble or strong; they are delicate and slender, she thinks, while looking at them. She has slim, pretty hands, which she uses for clumsy, ugly things. She suddenly realizes that she wants to touch something that matters with them. Touch something that is real.”

There’s an Edward who’s drifting, unfocused, dissatisfied. His scars are more superficial, more accidental, more mundane, and yet he has also managed to maneuver himself into a corner, locked in an aimless direction, his musical pursuits shifting through his fingers through lack of commitment or simple bad luck.

“Sometimes, it seems to him that he's lost his way. In moments of clarity, he understands that while he strives to express himself through his music, factually he is doing anything but. He plays his instruments with passion and an instinctive grace, and he knows that his understanding of the elements of music is there inside him, just as surely as his liver and his lungs are there inside him too, helping him function. But just as he knows that music is his life, he also feels that he's not really living it.

Edward has recently begun to realize that there is something missing inside him, something that prevents him from really moving forward. It inhibits the satisfaction he gets from writing and performing his own compositions. He knows they are good, but nothing has really punched him in the gut for a long time. He has composed countless pieces over the years, and yet, here he is still; a session musician, performing and recording other people's music. He feels as though he plays bit parts in other people's lives, instead of living his own... Edward berates himself for missing something, for wanting more, when he doesn't even know what it is.”

Their paths barely cross, their obvious and somewhat miraculous attraction for each other perhaps not enough to overcome their differences and their distance in life, two players entering and exiting the simple stage of a quaint little cafe’. It could be all there is to their story, two strangers almost colliding, until tragedy pulls them together in a scene of such untold, unimaginable monstrosity that it leaves readers reeling and shaking from the intensity and gritty realism of it.

And from then... the path is wide open. A blank slate is not possible for those two characters, but a common, shared future is more than a possibility- it’s almost a certainty. What form that path will take is still unclear at this stage in this story (I would guess we’re ⅔ of the way through completion). That, in fact, is one of the amazing things in this fiction: you simply never know where it’s going to go next. Edward and Bella grow and mature, they astonish themselves with the decisions they make, with the feelings that wash over them and take control before they can rationalize or interpret them. They break through old traumas and fresh suffering with a capacity and desire for survival and redemption that feels authentic and passionate even through its rawness and grittiness.

Alby Mangroves is an amazingly talented writer who is not afraid to visit treacherous, disturbing grounds; she handles her tough, dark material with confidence and sensitivity and a strong moral compass; her control over the subtleties and power of pacing, construction and word choices is truly spectacular.

The climax of this story is like nothing I have ever read in fanfiction: it’s like a punch in the stomach and vice-grip around the heart, life and death and beauty and ugliness crashing head-first and the sort of thing that makes you feel simultaneously horrible about humanity’s capacity for evil and elated at the sheer brilliance of the way an author can convey it.

I am thrilled at having discovered this story, and grateful to Alby for giving it to us.

“He has so many questions. Will she answer them? Time will tell, because as much as his common sense niggles at him to walk away from this hot mess, there are other voices, clearer still.

His conscience quietly says show compassion, to a human being in great need of a friend and kindness. That voice resonates in a fissure in his soul that he didn't know was empty.
He can give that- he can offer her his time and his empathy. He can offer her himself.
But the clearest of all is his heart. It is not wary like his head, nor is it selfless like his soul.
It's loud, unambiguous and unrelenting, and it won't be silenced as it whispers and spins like a glass dome clock, over and over: I want... I want...

I want.”


  1. miaokuancha said...:

    This is the most brilliant review of one of the most exceptional stories that I have ever read.

    I have nothing to add except BRAVO!!

  1. Boydblog said...:

    I agree...not just The Dark Muse, but all the other stories Alby has written - beautiful writing. She has a whimsical quality that she will try and pass-off as Purple, but I'll slap her wrist every time she says that!!!!

    I am not up to date on this fic. I am so, so, so confronted by angst and have to push myself to read. I suppose I am getting better, and even though Alby had reassured me. I think I need to be in the right headspace to read. The reason? Alby has a realism to her writing. With most fics, I can flick that little switch in my brain that reassures me everything fanfiction is, not so much with this fic. Not like the vamps and wolves and fantasy fluff of our beloved Twi FF world... the darkness is in the realism. It could be happening right now. I will continue to read, knowing that Alby will be there to give me a virtual hug when I need it, because that's the kind of inclusive author she is!

    *fangirl* OOps, sorry...couldn't help it!

    Luv BBxx

  1. What a lovely review!!! I very much agree with everything said here about this phenomenal story. I happened to become one of Alby's betas through a chance meeting with PTB. As soon as I saw that first chapter (which was actually something like chapter 7?), I knew how special her writing was.

    As a beta, Alby is always making me think. As a reader, she keeps me engaged and invested. But I also think there's something to be said for her nature as a person.

    Which is beautiful.

    She truly is and it translates through her writing.

    Thank you for highlighting this story and author!

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