The Cobra Queen by Tara Moss

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Pandora English – the protagonist of this novel – is a living human being.  The word ‘living’ is used advisedly as the area of New York in which Pandora lives is populated by the living, the dead and the undead.  She lives in Spektor – an area of Manhattan where the living can drive in and through but, after they do so, their memories of the trip are ‘erased’.

Pandora lives with her Great-Aunt Celia in an old mansion situated directly above a portal into the underworld – a place where the boundary between the living and the dead is stretched paper-thin.  She has a boyfriend – Lieutenant Luke – who is a soldier who lost his life in the American Civil War.  Pandora can bring about his manifestation by gripping his sword tightly with both hands – he then appears to her in human form.  There may be a double entendre there – whether intentional or not, only Pandora knows.

To round off the cast of this charming para-normal story, there is Deus – a ‘sanguine’ which is the name in polite society for a vampire; Jay Rockwell – a wealthy handsome living human who doesn’t yet know he is competing against a dead person for the love of Pandora; and Pandora’s friend Morticia [an assumed name taken from the TV series The Addams Family] who is also human but, as we later discover, may have some unearthly powers. 

Deus is particularly important as he provides blood to revitalise both Great-Aunt Celia and Pandora.  There is an interesting vignette in the book where Great-Aunt Celia is sipping a ruby-red liquid from a crystal goblet – which much to Pandora’s surprise turns out to be fresh blood.  This is not a book for the faint-hearted.

The name Pandora brings to mind ‘pandora’s box’ which when opened released sickness, death and other evils into the world.  Pandora points out that in Egyptian mythology, ‘pandora’ means knowledge and strength which she will need as she faces challenges beyond comprehension.  She is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter and as such has the responsibility of protecting the world against the Revolution of the Dead.

Some readers will be familiar with Pandora as this is the fourth novel in the series; but for those who are new readers, there is much to enjoy in this beautifully written book.  The story is told from the perspective of Pandora – nineteen years old and working as a PA to the editor to a fashion magazine called Pandora­ – coincidence or the magic of the spirit world?  We are not told.

Pandora is an engaging character – polite, courteous, grieving for her parents who died eight years ago, in love with her Lieutenant, and thoughtful with her friend Morticia.  She is likeable and unassuming – but beginning to understand the importance of her role in the protection of the living world.

Many stories are told of children and adults who live quiet lives until a major threat arises.  Then as Sir Walter Scott may have said ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the [wo]man’.  This is such a story and it is an indication of the skill of the author that it is entirely believable that Pandora will meet the challenge – and succeed [which we may discover in the next book in the series].

At a comfortable but engaging pace, the novel sets out the groundwork for the emerging threat to the world of the living.  The threat is seen only by those like Pandora who have a foot in the worlds of the living and the undead.  Expressed in a generally subtle and unassuming way, the threats ring true enough to the reader.  Just as in the 1960s, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds ensured that you would never look at a lovebird in quite the same way again, the author’s description of clouds above Manhattan lead you to question whether any cloud formation may be a harbinger of danger.

I could see that these green swirling maelstroms formed a larger pattern, like three spirals radiating to a centre, each moving clockwise.  The twisting fog was spread out across Manhattan in three points like a kind of moving triangle, at the centre of which was Spektor. [153]

As Deus says ‘Now you have seen it – the Agitation’ [154].

There is well-realised sense of foreboding through the story – balanced sometimes by the day-to-day routine of Pandora’s personal life and her work.  The juxtaposition of the two creates a tension which is not resolved at the end of the book but heightened.  The last words of the book are: ‘The Revolution of the Dead had begun’ [294].

Clearly, another book in the series is to come; and it will be one to look forward to.

Tara Moss is an author, novelist, documentary maker and presenter.  Since 1999, she has written eleven best-selling books including the Pandora English series.  Tara is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney.

The Cobra Queen

[2020]

Tara Moss

Echo Publishing

ISBN 978 1 76068 626 0

$29.99; 294pp

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