Monday, April 15, 2019

Mulengro

Followers of distinguished Canadian fantasy writer Charles de Lint probably remember MULENGRO (1985), which horror fans in general might have overlooked. The villain of this urban fantasy with police procedural mystery elements isn't a traditional vampire, but he has vampiric traits. An unusual sort of psychic predator, he absorbs energy from the ghosts he creates. In the opening scene of the novel, Romany (Gypsy) musician Janfri Yayal watches his house burn down. Graffiti left by the arsonist brands him an outcast from his people. As we later learn, the antagonist is pursuing a vendetta against Romany whom he considers traitors to their own kind. Janfri's friend Tom Shaw, who knows him under an assumed name and isn't aware of his ethnic background, witnesses the fire and is baffled when "John" simply vanishes afterward. Another viewpoint character, Ottawa police detective Patrick Briggs, investigates a series of bizarre murders with his partner, Will Sandler. Horribly mutilated bodies turn up, and it gradually becomes clear that the killings have something to do with the secretive Romany community. This 350-page novel has a large ensemble cast of both Romany and *gaje* (people of any other ethnicity), including: Ola, a Romany woman who lives with a sapient cat and uses her powers only reluctantly but recognizes the villain's true nature when he kills an old woman who also practices magic; Jeff, a young man beaten up by two roughnecks who later try to attack Ola; Jackie, his sort-of girlfriend; one of the attackers and his earthbound dead brother; Zach, an old hippie with whom Ola takes refuge; and, among others, of course the Mulengro himself.

The police officers, naturally, don't suspect a supernatural force behind the murders and don't readily believe it even after gaining the trust of some Gypsies and hearing the alleged truth. Moreover, aside from Ola, who's already conversant with magic, most of the Romany don't instantly believe either. Rather than blindly superstitious, they display the skepticism one would expect from people of the modern world, even those of an insular minority group. Nor do they welcome cops as allies with open arms.

The Mulengro, a human necromancer with nearly superhuman powers, has become monstrous in his crusade to "purify" his race. His backstory eventually reveals a rational (in his viewpoint, at least) motive for his crimes. In the sincere belief that he is eradicating evil, he gives the old Gypsy *drabarni* (roughly, witch) a "clean" death because she means well. Other victims get savagely murdered and become *mule* (ghosts) under his control. Eventually the good guys overcome their mutual suspicions and unite to vanquish him with both mundane and magical weapons. The story ranges from Ottawa and its suburbs to the sparsely populated wilderness, explores the Romany subculture, and introduces us to a host of vividly drawn characters. The book includes a glossary of Romany words and phrases used in the text. De Lint has obviously done thorough research about the Rom community in Canada. His faithful readers know anything he writes will be good, and other fans of urban fantasy and horror should definitely check out MULENGRO.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

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