The Citadel of Fear

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Gertrude Barrows Bennett’s The Citadel of Fear (1918) is one of the greatest dark fantasy classics, a gorgeously written and imaginatively conceived masterpiece. In a career that spanned a mere three years, Bennett published half a dozen books under the pseudonym of Francis Stevens which came to define a number of later genres. She is most popularly known as the woman who invented dark fantasy, but along the way she also invented a new, creepier kind of dystopian sci-fi.

 When The Citadel of Fear first appeared in The Argosy, H.P. Lovecraft raved of its “wonderful and tragic allegory,” describing it as a “masterful” and “huge mystery” — a “gigantic tragedy.” Although set during the first world war, the story centres around the forgotten (yet active) Aztec civilisation of Talapallan, tucked away in an eerie underworld of the Mexican wilds. Among its many temples stands the black fetid shrine, where the dark god Nacoc-Yaotl is worshipped. When an Irishman and an American from modern-day United States stumble into Talapallan one falls in love, while the other is possessed by Nacoc-Yaotl. Their return to the quiet suburbs of the US is anything but, bringing in their lucid wake a world of rampaging monsters, mutated civilians, and battling gods.

 Romance, magic, adventure, and scrumptious writing are embedded in this lengthly, yet unavailable and often overlooked, masterwork. This edition is accompanied by an audiobook, narrated by Chirag Patel, and includes illustrations by Virgil Finlay (from the original editions of Bennett’s work).


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