by Richard Calder
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Although Richard Calder's Babylon opens with the appearance of a Victorian era story, Calder doesn't allow the misperception to last for very long. This is a nineteenth century London which is heavily influenced by the Babylonian cult of goddess worship, as a world separated from ours by a mystical gate has revealed a lost colony of Babylon, which has come to influence human society.
Madeleine Fall is a young school girl in this society who rejects her middle class upbringing and desires to become a whore of Babylon. Although Madeleine sees this as something to aspire to, it is clear that her parents will disagree, which leads to her estrangement not only from them, but from her best friend, Lizzie. Madeleine quickly replaces those attachments with one to Cliticia Lipski, one of the girls in her class who is hereditarily targeted to become a whore of Babylon.
Madeleine's switch from a good middle-class girl to one in rebellion would have been more powerful if Calder had shown more of her life with her parents and with Lizzie before she fell under Cliticia's sway and her yearning to become a whore of Babylon. Calder could, at the same time, have provided a deeper introduction to the alternative London he created, perhaps showing some of the less seedy aspects of the city.
Calder examines Madeleine and Cliticia's naive beliefs about the world they are going to enter against the background of Victorian society and secret society. To further show how naive the girls are, even when Madeleine looks up to Cliticia as a more advanced and aware friend, they find themselves in the company of the mysterious and ominous Lord Azrael and his partner, Malachi. The play sensuality Madeleine and Cliticia have as future whores of Babylon becomes a much more threatening sexuality in the mouths and deeds of Lord Azrael and Malachi.
Eventually, Madeleine and Cliticia are transported through the gate to New Babylon. Where once they would have viewed this world with the eyes of naïveté
and wonder, instead their innocence is tempered by the corruption which they imbibed while with Malachi and Lord Azrael, who viewed the girls as pawns in their undisclosed plot. Although Calder poses the question of whether the girls will realize their role or not, it isn't central to his story of seduction. Instead, the real question is whether the girls will see the evil of their mentors and do something to prevent destruction akin to Nazi actions in World War II.
While it would be easy to mistake Babylon for a coming of age story or a tale of a girl in rebellion, Calder's story is one of innocence versus evil. Azrael and Malachi's actions affect not only Cliticia and Madeleine, but the world of Babylon and Earth. Their activities threaten all of society as Calder looks at how evil can infiltrate the world simply by focusing on the unsuspecting.