This book is one of those that I first read in adolescence and liked–but coming back to it decades later, I can only wonder at what I thought I understood about it. Our Lady of Darkness teems with explicit allusions to other fiction and to occult history that I could not have possibly appreciated on my initial read of it. The protagonist is fairly autobiographical (a horror writer named Franz) and the San Francisco setting is in every way integral to the plot.
As a horror novel, it’s middling, not especially scary. But the theories of modern occultism initiated by Leiber in this book are important and influential. His notions of megapolisomancy (i.e. thaumaturgical urban psychogeography) and paramentals have persisted beyond this book, and are in fact scarier with each passing decade. Possible effects of the 5G network presently being built out far exceed the direst anticipations of Leiber’s chiliastic sorcerer de Castries.
I re-read this book on my way to a conference in Barcelona at which one of the presenters was scheduled to speak on megapolisomancy. That whole conference seemed to be absorbed by the events of the book. At the end, I missed a flight connection, and I was re-routed through Oakland (the airport closest to downtown San Francisco and the landmarks given in the story). I joined up with a fellow passenger in London, where we were briefly stranded. He was a Mexican who works on construction in Chicago. His English was almost as bad as my Spanish, and we played chess in lieu of conversation. The synchronicity with events at the climax of the novel was a little disturbing.