Book Review by John T. Plunket
In the dead of night, London barrister Malcolm Ross is awoken from a romantic dream by a summons from the subject of his dream, Miss Margaret Trelawny. Her father Abel has been savagely attacked in his bed, sprawled in a stupor “with the flesh torn or cut all around a gold
chain bangle on his wrist.”, a mysterious bangle hitherto unknown, securely fastened and not meant to be removed.
The fact that Mr. Trelawny has left a note predicting the incident and asking not to be left alone afterwards heightens the mystery. The bedroom is stuffed with Egyptian artifacts, including mummies human and feline. The room exudes a soporific smell of Egypt, of “bitumen, nard, aromatic gums and spices” making for a claustrophobic watch over the catatonic Mr. Trelawny. The strange influence in the room makes it difficult to guard against the repeated attacks; watchers fade away into slumber or trance.
This is a good start to The Jewel of Seven Stars, first published in 1903 (and Stoker’s first horror novel after Dracula), but the novel begins to bog down shortly thereafter. H.P. Lovecraft wrote that the “poor technique” in Stoker’s novels “sadly impairs their net effect”, and he may have had a point. Lovecraft damned The Jewel of Seven Stars with faint praise, stating that it was at least “less crudely written” than The Lair of the White Worm.
After the mysterious beginning, the novel goes through a tedious spell of introducing characters without much of a role to play in the story. It is eventually enlivened by the appearance of the Egyptologist Mr. Corbeck, “sun-scarred with the burning of the Desert”, but then slows again in
lengthy exposition and mystical babble regarding a tale of tomb exploration in the “Valley of the Sorcerer”, with the discovery of a mummy with a seven-fingered hand, and on that hand a ruby ring with seven stars. It transpires that this is the mummy of the sorceress Queen Tera. Hand and ring now reside in Mr. Trelawny’s bedroom, and, as you might expect, are up to no good. Even worse, Miss Trelawny may have fallen under Tera’s malign influence.
Unlike the epistolary Dracula, The Jewel of Seven Stars is told from only one viewpoint, and this viewpoint doesn’t spend much time developing the characters. Miss Trelawny is no Mina or Lucy. Queen Tera is hardly a presence at all, and after the beginning Stoker doesn’t manage to
maintain the sense of urgency and menace found in Dracula. There is too much backstory and not enough story.
The novel is full of Egyptomania, which was still going strong one hundred years after Napoleon’s expedition, and this is enjoyable to an extent, but the talk of Ba, Ka, astral bodies, and various tomb doodads is disproportionate to the actual story, and becomes tedious. Other
than the promising start, the best thing about The Jewel of Seven Stars might be the surprisingly abrupt and downbeat ending, so downbeat that the novel was revised in 1912 to provide a happier conclusion.
John T. Plunket is a long-time horror enthusiast who loves discovering old and new stories and films in the genre. He sometimes writes about horror at http://coldhandinmine.blogspot.com/