Aleister Crowley, also known as the Great Beast, is one of the most reviled men in history. Satanist, cult leader, debauched novelist and poet, his legacy has been harshly contested for decades.
Crowley supposedly died in 1947, but in Ian Thornton’s new novel, set in the present day, the Great Beast is alive and well and living in Shangri-la. Now over 130 years old, thanks to the magical air of his mystical location, he looks back on his life and decides it is time to set the record straight.
For Crowley was not the evil man he is often portrayed as. This was just a cover to hide his real mission, to save the twentieth century from destroying itself and to set humanity on the road to freedom and liberty.
The Death and Afterlife of Aleister Crowley is an epic novel that will make you see this notorious figure in a completely new light, as he encounters an impressive cast of real-life characters including Timothy Leary, The Beatles, Princess Margaret, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock.
|Netgalley||eARC||400||Unbound||Fantasy||August 22nd, 2019|
Going to admit straight away that although I had heard of Aleister Crowley and knew the ‘labels’ his persona carries, I don’t actually know a whole lot about his life, in detail. And, yet, I was intrigued by this book right off the bat!
My name is Aleister Crowley, The Great Beast. 666. And I am here to tell you the truth. You see, wouldn’t you want to do just that, if instead of being blamed for trying to torch the twentieth century, you had really only ever been responsible, in large parts, for rescuing it.The Deaths and Afterlife of Aleister Crowley – Ian Thornton
I requested the book without hesitation through Netgalley based on the promise of an interesting alternative take on this historical figure, based on the cover, based on the fact that I would find it personally unacceptable if I didn’t read it. But before I started reading this title, the reviews and the average rating on Goodreads filled me with fear of god. It wasn’t looking too damn good, at all.
In conclusion upon finishing the book, I found that as there was a lot of eventful life as well as other historical events to cover off, it was maybe slightly too much by the end. At least for me. Thing is- the further the story got along, and whilst I still found each instance of a note-worthy milestone interesting, I was getting worn out by colourful picture the author was painting.
Having said that, the aforementioned was my only criticism during the whole of this reading experience. I found the writing to be lovely and rich, as fitting for our main character, as well as the settings and scenes wonderfully engaging. The air of occult hangs in the air because in the back of your head you know Crowley is somewhat of a shadowy figure. It is all the more amplified by the fact that profanity has not been redacted and some of these poems in the story could make a more sensitive reader’s toes curl in distaste.
But all in all, what mysterious, wonderful, eclectic journey. Again, I am no Crowley-expert so I am unfortunately unable to draw any lines about what has been recorded about him in reality and what was portrayed in the book to give you a proper comparison. The little I do know is that, in non-fictional terms he should creep the bejeebus out of you for being a creepy magic-practising Satanist with a healthy appetite in experimental drug use, sexual pleasures with both men and women and for not practising his spirituality quietly in the corner somewhere and instead using his ‘world view’ for social criticism. In fictional terms, when it comes to this book, he’s just … a larger than life character, a type of hero who accepts the downfall of his character for the greater good. And yes, he still loves to shag both ways and get zonked on jungle juice but in this story, his ‘sins’ are balanced out with his mission to do good in the world.
For anyone who enjoys an alternative take on history, this book could be truly interesting. World Wars are covered, Hitler is in the picture as well as Churchill, Rasputin and the Christian fundamentalist group Plymouth Brethren. Hells’ bells, there’s even Shangri La in this book. The historical alternatives are peppered with scenes of earthy, pagan/occultist undertones adding atmosphere and further entertainment.
The Deaths and Afterlife of Aleister Crowley is at times a drug-fuelled, sex-driven fantasy romp on the timeline of past, as much as an alternative case study of Aleister’s character and life that covers the entirety of his life, including his relationships with his parents, his lovers, his friends. His life dissected by chapters as we count down to his ‘return to life’. Yep, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you recognize a pull in yourself towards the less mainstream, then this would be the book for you.