Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Our Lady of Darkness

Rate this book
Middle-aged San Francisco horror writer Franz Westen is rediscovering ordinary life following a long alcoholic binge. Then one day, peering at his apartment window from atop a nearby hill, he sees a pale brown thing lean out his window…and wave.

This encounter sends Westen on a quest through ancient books and modern streets, for the dark forces and paramental entities that thrive amidst the towering skyscrapers of modern urban life…and meanwhile, the entities are also looking for him.

A pioneering work of modern urban fantasy, Our Lady of Darkness is perhaps Fritz Leiber’s greatest novel.

183 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published February 1, 1977

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Fritz Leiber

1,094 books901 followers
Fritz Reuter Leiber Jr. was one of the more interesting of the young writers who came into HP Lovecraft's orbit, and some of his best early short fiction is horror rather than sf or fantasy. He found his mature voice early in the first of the sword-and-sorcery adventures featuring the large sensitive barbarian Fafhrd and the small street-smart-ish Gray Mouser; he returned to this series at various points in his career, using it sometimes for farce and sometimes for gloomy mood pieces--The Swords of Lankhmar is perhaps the best single volume of their adventures. Leiber's science fiction includes the planet-smashing The Wanderer in which a large cast mostly survive flood, fire, and the sexual attentions of feline aliens, and the satirical A Spectre is Haunting Texas in which a gangling, exo-skeleton-clad actor from the Moon leads a revolution and finds his true love. Leiber's late short fiction, and the fine horror novel Our Lady of Darkness, combine autobiographical issues like his struggle with depression and alcoholism with meditations on the emotional content of the fantastic genres. Leiber's capacity for endless self-reinvention and productive self-examination kept him, until his death, one of the most modern of his sf generation.

Used These Alternate Names: Maurice Breçon, Fric Lajber, Fritz Leiber, Jr., Fritz R. Leiber, Fritz Leiber Jun., Фриц Лейбер, F. Lieber, フリッツ・ライバー

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
507 (23%)
4 stars
757 (34%)
3 stars
599 (27%)
2 stars
223 (10%)
1 star
81 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 262 reviews
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
August 1, 2019

Although I love Conjure Wife more, I think this just might be Leiber's best novel of terror. It displays many intriguing elements: a candid self-portrait for its protagonist (aging widower and novelist of the supernatural “Franz Westen,” a recovering alcoholic afraid of commitment), an evocative mid-70's San Francisco setting so detailed and precise that walking tours have been based on it, affectionate homages to both the traditional English ghost story and Weird Tales (a specter which evokes M.R. James' “Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad,” a journal supposedly written by Clark Ashton Smith, and some Lovecraftian speculations concerning geometry), an informed and effective use of Jungian psychology, and—the final element that ties them all together so effectively—the pseudo-science of “megapolisomancy."

“Megapolisomancy,” as its Classical roots suggest, is the practice of the particular form of magic which can unleash the power of a great metropolis. The inventor of the term, the fictional author Thibaut de Castries, maintains that the large concentrations of stone, concrete, and metal contained in such cities, combined with electricity and other fuels, constitute a great reservoir of energy which is organized by the grid pattern of the streets and heightened by the shapes and heights of particular buildings, which--properly manipulated--may evoke powerful occult forces. These forces, Westen suspects, are intensifying this very minute, and they are centered in his San Francisco neighborhood--perhaps in his very own apartment building.

I could go on at greater length about the many beauties of the novel--the sharp yet affectionate portraits of the tenants, the love for good books, good conversation, and good music displayed throughout, etc.--but I suspect you would enjoy them better if you discovered them for yourself.

So sit back, relax, and let yourself be terrified. You are in the hands of a master.
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68.1k followers
December 20, 2020
We Control the Vertical...

You can check every detail of Leiber’s physical descriptions on Google Earth. The rocks atop Corona Heights do have faded astrological graffiti. There is an old seven storey hotel at 811 Geary whose rear windows face the Heights two miles away, and which goes into shadow from the high-rise next door with the afternoon sun. I have no doubt that the details of the public transport routes and the transfer points necessary to get from one to the another are exactly correct as of 1977. Even if the place hadn’t been named, it could be nowhere else than San Francisco.

811 Geary
 photo AD2028E0-305F-44A9-B4BA-B3EF97C77E91_zpsccfgxyhb.png

Leiber revels in precise placement. Who sits between whom at a small dinner party is essential. The names of office buildings, monuments, churches, and TV masts are of crucial importance to him. The precise point in his journeys between the entangled locations at which he shifts his binoculars (specified as seven-power) from around his neck to his pocket are significant events in the story. The alternative entry and exit points to Corona Heights and Buena Vista Park and their proximity to Haight-Ashbury are parts of a kind of intimate factual description of the city. The unique reality of of existence in that place, from the height of the fog on the hills to the number of pedestrians on the streets, is a crucial component of Leiber’s story.

The view from Corona Heights (with fencing detail)
 photo 6EB2FDCB-169F-43E7-91A5-58C563818071_zpsgfcksoxs.png

Within this intense realism, the shock of the unexpected entry of an alternative reality takes on its own intensity, as when: “Then the paramental entity reached through the glasses at his eyes.” There is no preparation for this. It simply appears. This is cinema (or a small screen script) without the cues for mood music. Leiber can’t signal horror any other way. So he grabs the readers unawares from the mass of quotidian reality. The intrusion of the not-normal is abrupt, confusing to the reader even more than to the protagonist, and finished as soon as it begins. And then it’s back to the details. A lightning flash with the emotional reverberation of delayed thunder as the story progresses.

The characters too are so unmistakably denizens of the pre-high tech Bay. The fey harpsichordist girlfriend; the co-tenants of ambiguous gender; the Peruvian concierge and her Americanised daughter; the lugubrious guru of occult wisdom; the autobiographical protagonist/writer himself are all distinctly of the place. Only the latter is consciously aware of it, but all are obsessed with its history, its topography, and its urban legends. They each come from somewhere else but have been entirely captivated and absorbed by its atmosphere of inherent strangeness. They do after all inhabit a crossroads between the dry, hot mission-country of the South and the cold, wet forests of the North. They sit on the Rim and on the Fault which act as a collection point for the entire Pacific. Humanity which is Ill-attached elsewhere slides or floats there - into a sort of enchanted sump.

The detail continues in a sort of literary history of the genre. All the big names are dropped - Lovecraft, Machen, etc. - and a score of those somewhat lesser known, including Leiber himself. Generic tropes are scattered like pollen - Egyptian goddesses, Chinese sorcerers, golem-like entities, and cognoscenti with grudges and restless souls. They tend to inhabit the steel in buildings (as well as disused broom closets) for somewhat arcane reasons having to with electrical energies (the physics are more 19th C than 21st). Various occult mysteries are alluded to and connected historically to the tale at hand. This is material for the aficionado. It establishes the ‘place’ of Leiber’s story in a literary as well as sociological context. It also provides a generic education for those who have unfortunate gaps in their own.

The effect of Leiber’s technique is interesting. Unless the reader is willing to submit to the, at times, tedious physical and cultural travelogue, the story becomes senseless. This technique is the pot in which the ‘paramental’ is cooking itself and from which it emerges. Readerly cooperation with Leiber’s technique, therefore, isn’t optional. The dramatic tension is contained in the experiential trivia of city life. The implication Leiber clearly intends is this: If you’re not prepared to get with the programme, don’t bother making the effort. And why not? Part of the enjoyment of reading is submission to the rules laid down by the author. It’s a way of learning. His is an eccentric form of mentorship, but it works.
Profile Image for Jack Tripper.
400 reviews226 followers
February 19, 2020
Fritz Leiber, despite being more widely known today for his science fiction and the sword and sorcery tales starring Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, was also one of the most original and important horror authors in the history of the genre. His short stories from the 40's, such as "Smoke Ghost," "The Dreams of Albert Moreland," and "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" -- along with his classic 1943 novel, Conjure Wife -- were groundbreaking, and cemented his status as the most influential American writer of horror and weird fiction in the post-Lovecraft 40's, paving the way for near-future greats like Bradbury, Beaumont, and Matheson. Whereas most supernatural fiction before Leiber was set in isolated places, he brought the paranormal into the streets of modern cities like Chicago and San Francisco, with some of the finest prose in speculative fiction.

1977's Our Lady of Darkness, Leiber's final novel is, in a way, the culmination of all his ghost stories up until this point. The story revolves around Franz, a horror writer and recovering alcoholic in San Fran loosely based on Fritz himself who, after discovering in a used bookstore an old handwritten journal of bizarre metaphysical ramblings -- which he believes to have been owned by (real-life) horror fantasist and Lovecraft colleague Clark Ashton Smith -- begins experiencing inexplicable, seemingly supernatural happenings in the city. He periodically notices a mysterious, robed and hooded figure atop the nearby ominous hill known as Corona Heights. Intrigued, he decides to visit the hill himself and, once atop it, sees if he can find his apartment building among the multitude with his binoculars, just for the heck of it. What Franz notices in his apartment window chills him: (mild, early spoiler) it's the same robed figure...staring at him. (end spoiler)

To say any more would ruin the fun of experiencing the slow-building mystery that, while not exactly filled with blood-curdling terror, is stuffed with the sense of foreboding doom and unsettling, almost smothering atmosphere that Leiber began perfecting four decades earlier with the help of his semi-mentor and letters-correspondent, H.P. Lovecraft. Leiber, however, has a much more engaging style than ole' H.P., and I was totally unaware of the outside world while reading.

Though it certainly won't be for everyone (as evidenced by the mixed reviews here), due to long passages of exposition that may not be to some readers' tastes, this was a completely absorbing experience for me, and anyone looking for a unique take on the classic ghost story could certainly do worse than Our Lady of Darkness. This, along with Conjure Wife and his short story collections -- such as Night's Black Agents, Heroes and Horrors, Night Monsters, and The Ghost Light -- are without peer in the genre, and are absolutely essential for fans of imaginative, well-written horror.

5 Stars.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,972 followers
May 2, 2020
Before there was Urban Fantasy... there was 1978's Fritz Leiber writing Urban Fantasy. :)

Strangely enough, I was very engaged with certain parts of this novel, how it set itself up as a horror within a horror, a horror writer going through a dark patch that then leads him into a very STRANGE patch where ideas intersect with an almost Lovecraftian (or Clark Ashton Smith-ian) becomes a novel of investigation and eldritch (idea) horror.

Just why did all those old friends, the horror triumvirate (and associated) back in the '20s and '30s, die early or suicide?

There's lots of great literary name dropping and history packed in this novel. And more than that, there is a lot of great collective unconsciousness meets virus meets memes action going on here... ESPECIALLY for the time this novel came out. I'm reminded of some of my favorite modern UFs that play with geek fandom or bibliomancy or the like, but the style is very much a mix between a noir mystery (with drug use) and a simmering 70's horror novel.

In other words... it doesn't quite FIT with the modern view of novels. :)

And for me? I love how strange it is. It might not be the strangest novel ever, but it definitely got under my skin. :)
Profile Image for Peter.
2,625 reviews472 followers
July 10, 2018
Somehow not my cup of coffee. Bit tedious to me, long winded. I would have wished more horror coming from this mysterious woman.
Profile Image for Marvin.
1,414 reviews5,325 followers
June 15, 2012
Our Lady of Darkness is a horror novel for intellectuals. While Fritz Leiber started out as a pulp writer of Lovecraftian tales and sword-and-sorcery fantasy, his later writings delved in philosophical searching often of an intimate nature. This novel may be his best horror novel although most readers could argue that the best is really his early urban fantasy work, Conjure Wife Yet Our Lady of Darkness works on many levels. The basis premise is that pulp writer Franz Westen, a thinly disguised Leiber, is recovering from alcoholism. He discovers two old books that he bought during a three year drunk and realizes that the two works, Megapolismancy by cultist Thibaut de Castries and a journal by fantasy writer Clark Ashton Smith may hold answers to mysterious events happening in his own life. Leiber appears to be working out his own demons in this work, having dealt with alcoholism himself. On another level it is a tribute to the power of books and a strange bow of acknowledgment to his influences Clark Ashton Smith and H. P. Lovecraft. I found this book on my second reading to be as fascinating as the first time thirty years ago and highly recommend it to any horror fan.
Profile Image for Justin Chen.
400 reviews346 followers
March 9, 2022
3.5 stars

Equal part San Fransisco travelogue and Lovecraftian fantasy/horror, I went into Our Lady of Darkness expecting a moody, vintage horror, but ended up being more enamored by its documentary-like depiction of place. The best way to consume Our Lady of Darkness is to read it with Google maps open, following along the protagonist as he uncovers the dark secret hidden beneath this Califronian concrete jungle. The relentless reference to real-life streets, neighborhoods, and landmarks not only adds a layer of chilling credibility (it can be difficult to tell apart what's factual and what's fabricated at times), but ensures the story is solidly rooted in San Francisco, and not just some surface-level, touristy name dropping in an agnostic plot.

As much as I enjoyed the city-as-a-puzzle aspect, I came to realize I'm simply not the biggest fan of stories on occult — and Our Lady of Darkness is all about that. In addition, the storytelling style is consistently passive, involving long segments of characters exchanging knowledge and finding. For readers interested in the subject matter, I could see this thorough lore/world-building being immensely immersive, but I was ready for some action to happen. Overall, the stake simply didn't feel high enough, the story concluded just when something remotely fantastical finally materialized.

Our Lady of Darkness is definitely one of the more unique reading experience I've had this year so far; while the puzzle-solving plot reminds me of more recent novel like Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, and the protagonist's obsessive persona echos that from John Darnielle's Devil House, I was very much fascinated by its core concept of city as a concentrated source of metaphysical energy — not a new favorite, but very happy I checked it out.
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,160 reviews104 followers
November 5, 2020
Leiber was a rare and genuine triple threat. Fantasy, sci-fi and horror. I had not previously read any of his horror writings, but am a big fan of his Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser sword & sorcery series in particular, as well as many of his sci-fi shorts.

Our Lady of Darkness is his last published novel, and it's a doozy. It's the story of a San Francisco based fantasy/horror writer in the 1970's (so perhaps loosely semi-autobiographical?), with what you might call a well exercised imagination, who gets sucked into a world of black magic and curses from beyond the grave after stumbling across an old book of secrets by a dead sorcerer in a used bookshop. Also a journal purportedly written by one of his acquaintances, none other than the revered fantasy/horror novelist Clark Ashton Smith. This sorcerer believed that cities, all cities, literally embody evil, in their structures and layouts.

Leiber weaves in this bizarre and chilling mystique with the modern buildings and sites of San Francisco, plus numerous detailed references to a myriad of supernatural horror fiction, including Poe, Lovecraft, Smith and even himself! A true delight for fans of the genre. He deftly weaves it all in to a chilling tale of a man desperately seeking answers to a series of unsettling events, trying to decode the evil mysteries that seem to haunt him more frequently at every turn and have him questioning reality and his own sanity. There's a lot going on, perhaps even a bit too much, and some of the pieces don't fit in neatly, yet it doesn't detract from the grander picture or the growing suspense.
Profile Image for Carlex.
506 reviews90 followers
August 21, 2018
My first Leiber and ... Highly recommended! (If you have not read it yet, I know I'm late to the club).

Fritz Leiber creates a captivating "paramental" story, a dark urban fantasy, which pays tribute to authors Clark Ashton Smith, H. P. Lovecraft and others. This story is successful thanks of Leiber's talent and turns itself into a classic in its own right.

Of course I will read more works by this author.
Profile Image for Karl.
3,258 reviews264 followers
Want to read
January 22, 2018
First published as Pale Brown Thing a 2 part serial in Fantasy & Science Fiction (issues 1,2/77). Our Lady of Darkness was Leiber's last novel.
Profile Image for William.
Author 422 books1,795 followers
June 21, 2017
OUR LADY OF DARKNESS isn't an exciting read. It's a slow burner, a mass of details, all seeming inconsequential at first, that build and grow into something that is ultimately rich and strange and terrifying.

There's a lot going on here, in the range and depth of characters that remind me of some of Raymond Chandler's or Ross MacDonald's lost people in California, in the details of the occult nature of city building, and in the secret pasts of famous genre writers such as Jack London and Clark Ashton Smith among others.

It's all wrapped up in a mystery being solved by a broken man, trying to put a jigsaw of pieces back into some kind of order that might make sense to him.

It's compelling stuff, and the denouement is the stuff of nightmares for bibliophiles.

One of the great works of modern supernatural literature, it deserves to be much better known than it is.
Profile Image for Janelle.
1,161 reviews141 followers
November 24, 2021
Such a strange book! The main character, Franz, a writer lives in room 607 in a building in San Francisco. A recovering alcoholic since the death of his wife, he owns a book called ‘Megapolisomancy’ written by an occultist who lived in the city 50 years earlier(so 1920s). Attached to the book is also a diary of another man, probably an acolyte. Franz wants to find where the occultist lived. He’s also fascinated by the view from his room, the TV tower, the hills in the distance where he sees someone apparently waving at him. Is it a ‘paramental’? Then it just gets weirder, but strangely readable. Lots of namedropping of authors (London, Lovecraft, lots more), There’s a bit of maths (pythagoras, geometry), curses, wards against witchcraft, and in between just interactions amongst the people who live in the building and others, a bit of bureaucracy as Franz gets sent from government department to the next trying to find out the name of his building, until the last few chapters where there’s some frenzied action. It really should’ve been a lot creepier.
October 19, 2012
In this story, Leiber demonstrates an incredible knowledge base about dark and supernatural fiction, going back into the 19th and early 20th century. He writes this story in the style of Lovecraft, or should I say Machen, since he wrote The Great God Pan long before Lovecraft, in which the unknown menace is slowly being revealed to the protagonist. This is a knowledge too terrible to behold. Many have been damaged and have succumbed to it in the past.

I liked the nod and the reference to all those various works of literature, and the inclusion of real life people in the world of the arts and science in this story. That was very cleverly done. This does a lot to create and flesh out the fictional world. As with the other book in the duology of Dark Ladies, "Conjure Wife", Leiber does do a good job of building menace and the tension level, and with using that thematic question ‘Is it real or am I losing my mind?

This story has an air of decadence I didn’t care for. You can see changes in the times, with the shift in values that occurred past the mid-20th Century, both good and bad. For instance, there is an air of anything goes sexuality, the rejection of anything good and decent for the sake of nihilism or the love of chaos/anarchy, and the liberal use of drugs and alcohol. The author doesn’t quite condone this in the story, but he is not shy about showing some of these aspects. Some of it gave me a bad feeling, but then I have never been one for sexual violence, darkness or depravity, in real life, or in my fiction.

Overall, I can’t say I liked this book that much. There were some appealing components, such as the literary nods and the clear evidence of Leiber’s extensive knowledge of classic dark fiction and horror, as well having his bibliophilia show through in his characters. As a huge fan of MR James, it was great to see more than a couple of references to him. Similarly, fans of Lovecraft will appreciate the nods to his pivotal work in 20th Century horror and supernatural fiction. I guess my big issue was the fact that some concepts were just too out there for me (and their explanations somewhat tedious), the overall level of moral decadence (not a big draw for me), and the slow unfolding of the plot. Sure enough, the climax is a good payoff (really quite scary), but not enough to elevate this book to a higher level. Especially after how much I enjoyed its sister story, “Conjure Wife" out of Dark Ladies: Conjure Wife/Our Lady of Darkness. It's never a good idea to compare things, but sometimes the comparison is obligatory and that one thing fails to live up to its companion in the end. Such was the case with "Our Lady of Darkness."

I would still consider this semi-required reading for the 19th-20th Century classic horror scholar or devotee. You might like it more than I did, and that would be an a good thing in the end if you find another book you love.

Overall rating: 2.5/5.0 stars.
Profile Image for Andy.
17 reviews2 followers
April 28, 2013
This was one of the most disappointing reads I've ever endured. I love Leiber, he's one of my favorite authors and I spent six years trolling the bins at used bookstores for his material, which is why I thought it a great coup when for the first time ever I spotted this book and mistook it for a lost gem. It tried for a Salem's Lot style horror-in-a-prosaic setting, this time modern (mid 70's) San Francisco and it tosses in a Lovecraftian element with a book of forbidden knowledge that opens up a vista of terror for the protagonist. Sounds good, right? Not so much. The books spends so much time building up the prosaic setting that the horror is almost an afterthought. I really wanted to enjoy it, but it was just a complete bore.
Profile Image for Patrick.G.P.
163 reviews92 followers
October 16, 2019
Fritz Leiber’s Our Lady of Darkness is a supernatural mystery novel, plunging deep into an urban consciousness of San Francisco and the strange secrets that may be buried there. A queer occult tome and a delicately written journal that may or may not have belonged to author Clark Ashton Smith sets into motion a horrifying mystery concerning the very city itself. Franz Westen, author of his own brand of supernatural horror becomes obsessed with the tome and journal after spying something pale and brown out of the window of his apartment.

The very core of the novel lies in the intense study of the city itself; I’ve unfortunately never been to San Francisco but I’m sure the novel would serve as an excellent (though sinister) guidebook. The cryptic past of buildings, strange neighborhoods, and occult graffiti on a jagged hill that seems to stand apart from the megalithic city that surrounds it. Leiber weaves this strange psychogeography into remnants of the past and hidden secrets that the occult tome and journal offer to our protagonist. The shadows of the bohemian literates of the 20s loom ever-present in the background, Leiber even mirrors them with a merrily decadent scholar in a new milieu of esotericism that has sprung up in San Francisco. It all comes together as a more modern mythos novel of sorts, where the lives of C.A. Smith, Lovecraft, and others have a direct impact on the narrative, more so than the slimy, ethereal creatures of their stories. The amount of references to other authors and works here is exhaustive, and wonderful to read, especially if one is well versed within the genre. Leiber’s prose shines through the entire novel, masterful use of foreshadowing, metaphors, and storytelling drives the narrative forward to its terrifying conclusion. A wonderful novel which has sparked my own literary quest to hunt down and read Leiber’s The Pale Brown Thing, to get further insight and perspective on the strange events of the novel.
Profile Image for Niki.
743 reviews116 followers
February 6, 2017
I'm giving up on this at 15%. I've been trying to read it since October and it's February. I want to call it pretentious and annoying, but I'll just settle for "It was not my cup of tea"
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,145 reviews1,817 followers
August 8, 2010
Whereas I liked Conjure Wife, I found this book all but impossible to get into. There was a time when I made myself complete books I'd started, but I finally came to a point where I decided that there are only so many hours in a life that can be given to reading. So I put this one down. I'm sorry in that I've really liked Leiber's work in the past.

To bad really. Try for yourself obviously some do like it, but not me. This is a more complex book than Conjure Wife founded on a "fantasy magical science", "Megapolisomancy". That may draw some in, but for me the problem wasn't "technical insufficiency" in the details it just wasn't as well written. That can be of course a "subjective" observation, dependent on taste. I didn't care for it, didn't finish it.
Profile Image for Phil.
1,622 reviews104 followers
June 6, 2021
Quite a book by Leiber, something akin to an urban fantasy or a Gothic horror novel, but in the end outside of any specific genre. Our main protagonist, Frantz (quasi autobiographical?!?) is basically a pulp horror writer/hack, working on novelizations of TV shows at the moment. After his relatively young wife passed due to brain cancer, he went on something like a 3 year drunk but now is sober and finding his way again. Set in San Francisco and first published in 1978, the focus of the plot concerns a strange bohemian writer/theorist/occult dabbler named Thibaut de Castries who came to San Francisco around 1900 and hung out with the other bohemians of the day. de Castries wrote an obscure book named _Megapolisomancy_ that Frantz stumbled upon, along with an old diary, when he was in his drunk state. He believes the diary was from another famous horror author, Smith, and it recounts Smith's interactions with de Castries in the 20s. Frantz, for a reason not really explicitly given, feels a need to know more about de Castries and his encounters with Smith, but while doing so, some very strange things start to happen...

Leiber drops more names here of famous authors/poets from the early 20th century than I have ever encountered in any book; you really get a feel for Frantz struggles to make some sense of the obscure books on the occult and so forth that litter his apartment. Frantz really is an endearing figure-- in his 40s and friends with an eclectic group who also live in the apartment building with him, including his landlady, a nurse at a mental hospital, a scientist and a concert harpsichordist. Leiber writes so well that he manages to pull you into this bizarre little story and Fritz's struggles to make sense of it all. Are our cities 'haunted' by 'paranormals'? If so, what are they like? More importantly, what do they do? I could say there are a few plot holes here and unresolved issues in the end, but so be it. Another classic by Leiber! 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Mike.
299 reviews139 followers
Currently reading
May 19, 2023

This is good fun. In 1970s San Francisco, a middle-aged recovering alcoholic and writer of science-fiction/fantasy stories is drawn into a mystery involving a decades-old book called Megapolisomancy (in which the author, the fictional T. de Castries, suggests that the accumulation of steel, concrete, electricity and other elements in large modern cities, combined with certain geometrical realities related to buildings and the layouts of streets, may serve the incubation of occult forces) and the San Francisco-based writers (George Sterling, Amrbose Bierce, Clark Ashton Smith and Nora May French among them) de Castries tried to recruit as acolytes, a few of whom later died, perhaps, under questionable circumstances.

But I'm left with two feelings that have little to do with the book's main themes. The first is my envy of the main character's daily routine (until it's interrupted by occult forces, that is): wake up in the morning and make coffee; work on short stories for publications with names like Weird Underground in accordance with your occupation as freelance writer of all manner of unconventional fiction; take a long hike through the hills of San Francisco; maintain an affair with a beautiful and intelligent harpsichordist who lives on the fourth floor of your apartment building; eat at a German restaurant with friends; play a couple of nearly silent games of chess in the evening with an acquaintance in the building with whom you don't share a language; then go to sleep and do it all again.

The second is my envy of Ambrose Bierce's death. It seems the man was in his 70s when he went to cover the Mexican Revolution as a journalist. He embedded himself with Pancho Villa's army...and then vanished, never to be heard from again. Now that's how you do it.
Profile Image for Cobwebby Eldritch Reading Reindeer .
5,132 reviews271 followers
January 2, 2017
Review: OUR LADY OF DARKNESS by Fritz Leiber

A classic horror novel, as well it should be, OUR LADY OF DARKNESS is one of the few stories I consider perfect. My recommendation to aficionados of subtle horror, is to cast yourself into this novel; then, while it traverses your brain pathways and central nervous system, follow it up with Caitlin R. Kiernan' s neo-Lovecraftian masterpiece, "Pickman' s Other Model," pondering its perception of the Dark Lady.

First published in short story form in 1971, OUR LADY OF DARKNESS appeared as a novel in 1977. It appears to be semi-autobiographical, is very emotionally intense, and includes, along with a highly detailed fictional pseudoscience, threads involving H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,617 reviews429 followers
June 3, 2018
-Fantasía Urbana, literal, pero para adultos y con ganas de literatura.-

Género. Narrativa fantástica (hasta cierto punto, en realidad).

Lo que nos cuenta. En el libro Nuestra señora de las tinieblas (publicación original: Our Lady of Darkness, 1977) Franz Westen es escritor, lector, astrónomo aficionado y alcohólico que lucha con el recuerdo de su esposa fallecida mientras sigue su vida en San Francisco. Franz conoce referencias a una magia urbana por un libro antiguo y, en un determinado momento, siente que hay algo en su apartamento cuando él no está, una figura que vio en las colinas que rodean la ciudad.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for Michele Monteleone.
Author 37 books1,065 followers
January 1, 2023
Leiber ha inventato il genere Sword & Sorcery, può dare lezioni a Howard e a Tolkien, ha scritto magnifici romanzi di fantascienza e, posso dirlo con certezza dopo aver letto questo romanzo, è uno straordinario autore horror.
La strana e affascinante storia di Nostra Signora delle Tenebre ruota attorno ai libri e alle città, viste come esseri immani e inquietanti, vivi e in agguato, capaci di far impazzire i propri abitanti.
Sebbene non sia il mio libro preferito di Leiber, la storia ha un fascino irresistibile e contiene un paio di idee narrative davvero fulminanti.
Profile Image for Μιχάλης.
Author 20 books127 followers
April 18, 2021
Παλαιομοδίτικος τρόμος.
Λαβκραφτικός, όχι με την έννοια "πλοκάμια από το υπερπέραν" αλλά με αρχαίους τόμους, αποκαλύψεις και φανταστικά και πραγματικά πρόσωπα να ενώνονται. Θα ήθελα περισσότερη εμβάθυνση στην Μεγαπολισμαντεία, η ιδέα έχει πολύ ψωμί που δεν έχει εξερευνηθεί αρκετά καθώς και η περίεργη αίσθηση του να διαβάζεις μία μεγαλούπολη ως κάτι εξωτικό και θαυμαστό.
Αποτελεί κατά κάποιον τρόπο συνέχεια της ατμόσφαιρας της ιστορίας "Κομμάτι του Σκοτεινού Κόσμου" οπότε αν σας άρεσε, πιθανότατα θα σας αρέσει και το βιβλίο αυτό.
Κατά τα άλλα, πολλές σκηνές με ανθρώπους να μιλάνε μεταξύ τους για λογοτεχνία και μαγεία, η εμμονή του συγγραφέα στα τελευταία του χρόνια με γηραιούς άντρες να αποπλανούν νεαρά (που φαίνονται έφηβα) κορίτσια εμφανίζεται και εδώ ενοχλητικά συχνά κα�� δε με άφησαν να απολαύσω το βιβλίο.
Profile Image for Zain.
1,378 reviews141 followers
December 21, 2020
Not As Expected!

One morning, while looking out his window, Franz sees a strange figure waving at him. Later that day, while at the same spot where he had earlier seen said figure, he looks at his house, and now the stranger is in his house waving at him!

So begins the the search for the mysterious figure and what it is all about.

Except for a few scary scenes, the book is mostly a mystery novel, not that anything is wrong with that. I love a good mystery.

It’s just that the book was sold as a horror novel and horror it is not. A bit scary, here and there, but that’s it.
Profile Image for Twerking To Beethoven.
370 reviews64 followers
August 5, 2019
Could you write a less than 200 page horror book with a very interesting premise and make it boring as fuck and as pointless as a set of nipples on a bull? The answer is yes.
Profile Image for Lee Broderick.
Author 4 books69 followers
January 3, 2016
I recently revisited 100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels . In one of his lists, Nick Rennison recommends Our Lady of Darkness as a 'Dark Fantasy'. It turns out it also won the World Fantasy Award, among others, in 1978. I enjoyed Leiber's Lankhmar books so I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued. I had thought that his other books were horror but perhaps I was wrong?

Well, as it turns out, no. 'Science-Fiction and Fantasy' often get lumped together by publishers and by large segments of the public. The unspoken third genre in this set is horror - unspoken perhaps because of slightly less overlap in readership? Nevertheless, many publishers do this lumping and the overlap in subject is plain from things like Ridley Scott's Alien on the one hand and the Cthulu mythos on the other. Perhaps urban fantasy and supernatural horror are particularly muddy waters as far as trying to separate one from another is concerned?

In any case, for me this is pretty clearly horror and not fantasy. I could well be unusual in enjoying Fantasy literature but not really caring for either of its siblings but that is the case and it's the only condition under which I can judge my enjoyment of the book. I can't find the reference now but for some reason I was convinced that Rennison had also described this book as Leiber's 'best fantasy novel'. Well, I've already ruled that out and I'm afriad I'm not in a position to compare it to his other horror works.

What I can say is it's very well written, perhaps better even than any of his Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser stories. I say 'perhaps' only because it's difficult to compare the style of those light, drily humorous tales with this tautly suspenseful one. The novel uses explicitly Jungian concepts of female- and hidden- selfs to build a plot powered by the fictitious pseudo-science of megapolisomancy - and what a chillingly believable pseudo-science it is.

Beyond those supernatural and psychological elements there are hints of a Roman-à-clef in the person of the protagonist - a recovering alcoholic churning out pulp-novels with an interest in the macabre. It is also a love-letter to books and a tribute to San Francisco's early twentieth century literary scene. This is, then, a very personal novel.

It's also a novel in which there is much to admire. One which I enjoyed despite a general distaste (mistrust?) for horror.


Finally, having praised the Gateway ebook editions of classic Fantasy and Sci-Fi previously I feel I must offer an addendum here. Having now read several of them, I have noticed a tendency for occasional typos. This is by far the worst offender that I have come across so far though. I can only assume that the original books were scanned with text recognition software and that nothing has been done to tidy them up since. 'l's sometime appear as 'i's, other characters are more bewildering still but a consistent and infuriating mistake sees 'th' become 'm'. A 'breath' is not the same thing as a 'bream'. 'Men' is rather different from 'then'. This probably happens at least once a paragraph.

Such transliteration mistakes are annoying in Project Gutenberg ebooks but forgiveable - because they're free. Effectively a charitable literary service. In a paid product though they're not. I don't know what the margins are but surely it's not going too far to suggest that the publishers should be employing a copy-editor to check their proofs after scanning them?
Profile Image for Warren Fournier.
585 reviews62 followers
February 11, 2019
My only complaint about this excellent novel is that the reason given to us for all the strange happenings in the plot is that an old wizard wanted to get some sort of revenge on fantasy writer Clark Ashton Smith. It's silly, and creates not a hole in the plot, but rather a vast empty void. But it is no spoiler for me to say this, nor did it take away from my enjoyment, because the novel is not about some old fictional curse on a real historic figure in art and literature. It is about the very real struggles with grief, isolation, and alcohol in the author himself, making this more personal and identifiable than any other of Fritz Leiber's works.

It seems not much momentous action happens in the actual plot. There's a lot of exposition and socializing among the main characters, as well as a great deal of internal musings by the protagonist done with wonderful lyricism. But beneath it all, there is a lot going on. In a small hotel apartment in old San Fran, a writer struggles with the loss of his wife and tries to find a new identity among an entire building full of lost but loveable souls, such as a sexually ambiguous pothead and dedicated nurse, a Peruvian immigrant who struggles with English but has a penchant for chess, and a struggling concert harpsichordist with latent supernatural abilities. Every character is flawed, but possesses a great talent and intelligence. And they all seem keenly sensitive to the metaphysical and "paranatural" mysteries of their urban surroundings. They look out for each other, care for each other, and are quick to believe each other's most outlandish tales of otherworldly encounters sight unseen.

Leiber makes San Francisco as much of a character as Stephen King does of the Overlook Hotel. Beneath the watchful eye of Sutro Tower, the grimy streets are teeming with generations of the lost, experimenting with drugs, music, art, sexuality, and the occult for a modicum of control over their world that got away from them somehow, creating a city that is a living neural network--conscious, and watching you. And so the things that happen to our main character seem too coincidental, as though orchestrated by the city just for his particular emotional and spiritual dilemma, to give him a chance to make sense of his life or be crushed, absorbed, and digested by the city. This was the San Fran once experienced by another of my favorite authors, Jack London, who does actually drunkenly wander into the plot at one point. And it was the San Fran that Chicago-born Leiber knew after the death of his own wife, living alone with his bottle of warm kirschwasser and his cold scholar's mistress of rumpled books and manuscripts in a changing world full of hippies, cultists, and addicts--but also full of people who loved him if he just opened his eyes...

Despite the gloomy premise, the novel is actually quite upbeat, funny, and tender. But when the scares do come, this is some of the creepiest stuff ever written. Leiber really channeled the spirits of Oliver Onions, Algeron Blackwood, M.R. James, and H. P. Lovecraft for these passages, so much so that I forgot I was reading a Leiber book. It does not seek to frighten with gore, but there is a visceral quality to it all the same, a goosebump-summoning incantation that only masters of weird fiction can create.

Though not a perfect novel, I rated this five stars because the whole package tickled all the right literary cravings for me, so that this will be one of those rare books I will want to read multiple times--so it's worth anyone reading at least once.
Profile Image for Kitty.
211 reviews81 followers
July 17, 2017

I want to make it perfectly clear that this is all. Neil. Gaiman's. fault.

Awhile ago, I came across a list of Gaiman's favorite books and this was on it. What the hey, I said. I'll take a stab at that! Well, stab taken, and it's a good thing that I wasn't planing on sleeping any time soon. Wow, wow, wow - it's been awhile since a book creeped me out this badly!

Recovering alcoholic, horror writer Franz Westen has a particularly soft spot in his heart for San Fransisco's quirky history - especially it's long and strange occult past. During the day Franz divides his time between writing a few pot boilers to pay rent and doing some research into the history of some of SF's more peculiar historical occult characters, which leads him to find the journal of a young poet who was particularly entranced with one of the more obscure and undoubtedly sinister figures of occult history - SF's own Alistair Crowley - "Tiberius" and his infamous mistress that was referred to by his contemporaries as the "Lady of Darkness". Franz becomes obsessed with the journal and the story being unfolded in it's pages, in particular, the mysterious house the young poet once occupied, "Six or Seven Roads". As Franz desperately tries to unlock the mystery of the young poet's fate, the journal and an eerie sighting he makes early one morning from his bedroom window, the story carefully maneuvers the reader along into the very depths of madness, cult psychology, and paranormal activity that secure Leiber's reputation as one of the last century's greater ghost story writers.

This is my second Leiber novel now (being previously impressed with The The Conjure Wife), and one thing that struck me was how deftly Leiber was able to work things like scientific logic into the story line in a way that seemed believable. Where as CW was more of a parable of scientific thinking taken to a dangerous extreme as a result of merging progressive thinking sans human feeling and emotion, OLoD was more a study on the ability to sooth and quiet the mind through logic, and how the more nobler pursuits of higher study in art, philosophy and mathematics can bring peace to a person. Here scholarship is both the undoing and the salvation of the characters depending on how they choose to use it, and while Leiber once again brings in a young lady who may or may not be a witch, this time her divining rods and crystal balls are instead the Pythagorean theorem and Bach's concertos.

Over all this was another one of Leiber's exploratory horror novels and I enjoyed it very much for what it was. I know a lot of people like to compaire him to Lovecraft, but really I think he writes in the much older tradition of writers such as Algernon Blackwood. Oh, to be sure, that old Eldritchian Horror vibe is still there, but there's a smooth, swuave and charming flow to the words here that Lovecraft never really possessed.
162 reviews30 followers
April 17, 2012
I'm so glad that I finally read this. I feel a strong connection with Leiber and his writing and I would like to collect all of this man's work. This book is a sort of modern, urban ghost story, like a really cool crossbreed of m. R. james, H. P. Lovecraft and existential pain. It's about the energy that builds up inside the conduits, tunnels, skyscrapers and buzzing antennae of huge cities and how that energy can be harnessed. Clark Ashton Smith is almost a character in this book, by way of a diary that is ostensibly written by him detailing his encounters with an eccentric and nasty fellow who claims to have discovered this energy and know the formulae for its control. The protagonist, a writer living in San Francisco in the 1970s who's just coming down from a year-long alcoholic binge after the death of his wife, gets sucked into the snare this vengeful magician seems to manipulate from beyond the grave when Smith's diary accidentally falls into his possession. Smith escaped by fleeing the city, but our protagonist is almost not so lucky. Coincidences and strange happenstance play a considerable part here, but they seem very natural given the subject matter and the ending is strangely bitter-sweet. There are a few comic moments but the tone gets very dark and anxious at times. I think that megapolisomancy (what a painful word) is probably something Leiber thought up while wandering the San Francisco streets himself, and sometimes I think he might have been onto something. I'm sure all the fury, the pent-up tension of millions of individuals, the crackling power lines and rushing water and pipes carrying fuel to countless buildings, the endless radio signals bouncing all through the atmosphere affects the universe around us in ways that we cannot understand. I feel a simultaneous love and loathing for the city that is a delicate balance to maintain, and this is a feeling that I think Leiber shared, and which he articulates well in this book.

Horror fans might want to read this book somewhere in proximity to watching Dario Argento's film Inferno. As it happens, I discovered them both at around the same time...both are heavily influenced by Thomas Dequincey's writings and the themes of strange urban forces create some interesting parallels between the two. I'm unaware of whether Argento was at all influenced by Leiber, but if you like discovering these sorts of implicit connections like I do, you might find some food for thought here.
Profile Image for Ann Schwader.
Author 81 books89 followers
May 16, 2012
Disclaimer: this is very much a YMMV review. Unless you are a fan of H.P. Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith, or interested in that circle of writers, this elegant dark fantasy might only come in at 4 stars for you. It is not "Mythos," but it does involve the life of Clark Ashton Smith (in possibly fictional detail) & refers more than once to Lovecraft & his works.

Our Lady of Darkness is an atmospheric, tightly written tale of curses, haunting, occult texts, & mystery. Although set in 1970s San Francisco, it delivers a full Gothic experience in an economical number of pages, & with very little graphic gore. Franz Westen, the haunted (in several senses) writer of weird fiction at the heart of this narrative, is a fully fleshed-out character -- as are his fellow apartment-dwellers caught in the increasingly grim mystery of what might or might not be sharing Westen's apartment. What happens to these people matters to the reader. Although the story takes a couple of chapters getting up to speed, no detail in these chapters is unimportant -- & everything comes together in a satisfyingly chilling way.

Lovers of quiet horror, modern ghost stories, or traditional creepfests should not miss this one.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 262 reviews

Join the discussion

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.