The Burden, by S. D. Lucas

the-burden-by-s-d-lucas coverGenre: Horror
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Published: 2002
Reviewer Rating: half star
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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In The Burden, S.D. Lucas offers up an overwritten tale of witchcraft and deviltry in a style that attempts to mimic the sensuality and depravity of Anne Rice or Poppy Z. Brite.

Marduc Rouen was born in 13th Century France and raised by his mother in the strict religious fashion of Catharism. But when his sect is sentenced to burn for heresy, Marduc escapes and strikes a bargain with the devil that he thinks will help him achieve revenge against all those who persecute the innocent. Like most deals with the devil, this one turns out to be more than Marduc bargained for. He becomes a witch, and immortal (sort of), with the uncontrollable urge to feast on human flesh. Goaded by the devil and another witch, Lia, he seeks to right injustices while at the same time committing horrific murders himself in traditional werewolf, flesh rending fashion.

One of the most difficult things to get past is the writing. Lucas has an honors degree in psychology, but I didn’t see anything about linguist in his bio. It’s painful to read Lucas’ attempts to mimic medieval speech. Although occasionally he strings together a passage that sounds pretty good, most of the time you’re left wincing, especially at his dialog.

The plot is really fairly minimal. Marduc attempts to grapple with his powers, exact revenge on those he sees as evil while trying to avoid harming innocents, and squirm out from underneath the influence of the devil and Lia, the devil’s agent who repeatedly brings Marduc to heel by forcing him to have sex with her and eat human flesh. By the end of the book, I was pretty tired of Marduc’s ramblings and poor-me attitude. Early on, he came across as sympathetic, a man caught up in more than he could bear yet was nevertheless determined to find a way to save himself. By the end though, he was no more than an ineffective whiner who ultimately accomplished nothing.

I found several aspects of the story to be confusing. Somewhere in the middle, Lucas writes about a prophecy: if Marduc can kill ‘her’ (and I never understood who her was) he would be able to foil the devil’s plans to bring back he ultimate evil, since the devil (we learn) really isn’t the ultimate bad guy. Turns out he’s an agent trying to bring about the return of his boss. Lucas hints that the devil and Lia can’t kill Marduc outright, because that would bring about the ‘prophecy’.

So they decide to seal him up in a box. There’s some discussion between the devil and Lia about leaving a way for air to get into the box so Marduc won’t die (but I thought he was immortal? Maybe he just doesn’t age….). A few chapters on, the boat the box is on sinks into the Atlantic, and Marduc is trapped underwater, washing about hither and yon with the tides for decades (evidently not in need of air) until he washes up on the shores of a young America. Once on land, he evidently requires air again, since the threat of an impending hanging leaves him convinced that he will die.

By the end I was left wondering: Is he immortal or not? What definition was of witch was Lucas using? Marduc shape-shifts, grows claws and fangs and fur and eats flesh. Sounds like a werewolf to me…. And what was the whole deal with the prophecy thing? Nothing ever came of it that I could tell. What were the devil and Lia really trying to accomplish? What was with Marduc’s alter ego –- a white, bone-like demon that appeared from time to time? Lots of questions on my part, with few answers from Lucas. That’s not to say the answers weren’t there though, and I just missed them.

Is The Burden worth your investment to read? Probably not. It’s uneven and a muddle, lacking direction and discipline, with a style that rapidly wears thin and nary a sympathetic character in sight. If you like Anne Rice or Poppy Z. Brite, you might enjoy The Burden. But after the tenth time you read someone say “don’t beat upon me”, you’ll probably be cursing my name.

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