At less than 200 pages, you’d think I could get through Cheryl Anne Gardner’s latest book in a day. Having read and reviewed her two previous novellas, I knew I better clear at least a week from my reading schedule to devote my time and attention to her work.
Logos took two weeks, as I devoted one single evening to each chapter. Each page is packed with detailed prose, and poetry even, that reads like Psalms from the Bible. I believe her protagonist, Selena, says it best in the first chapter:
"Sometimes you just have to have faith in that which you cannot explain, and sometimes, you just have to do what you are told to do. We work for the greater anarchy of the Universe. We answer to no one, and it doesn’t have to make sense."
That said, Gardner views her writing as artwork, and indeed it is. It is her heart and soul on paper. She offers up no apologies, and you aren’t always going to understand it. But as a whole, it’s hard not to walk away with the beauty and rage she intended you to feel and see by the time you finish the last page. I began by wanting to know what the hell “Logos” was. Our narrator explains early on:
"The Aenid is an epic poem, glorifying the heroic greatness of Rome. This greatness, however it seemed to permeate every fiber of my life, was not was absorbed me so profoundly. What held my heart and mind in suspended animation was the Stoic philosophy imbued through its text – a philosophy which held that the Universe was deliberately patterned, and within that complex pattern of mystery, truth, and lies, there existed a secret balance between order and chaos. This balance had a larger purpose and meaning, so the Stoics called it logos, and it was believed that this Logos originated in the divine mind of the Universe."
And so Selena begins to obsess over all the answers to her questions which she believes can be found in the Logos, answers that can set her free. It is here that our journey with her begins. She is a child of Rome, which is at war, and she becomes a slave to a family. But her masters appreciate her thirst for education. As she matures, she purges herself of the past. Her birth name escapes her.
And at twenty, we find her working in a brothel and wooing the heart of a soldier from which she acquires a certain sword which she shall wield upon helpless souls for centuries to come. She is indeed the fourth horseman, death, and she reaps souls for a thousand years until she finds herself in modern-day London and falling in love with an artist named Ian. Can love defeat death? Or is it that love remains, even after death has come? Gardner leaves that to the reader, and to Selena’s immortal soul, to decide.
With Selena’s immortality, Gardner transcends space and time, taking the reader on a bizarre journey where you witness Celt sacrifice and Pagan rituals, with death as your own personal tour guide. Selena pulls the trigger. Selena slits the throat. Selena lights the match. She takes life without mercy. It is not her job to be merciful:
"The years seemed endless. There was no afterlife for me, no rest, no divine transcendence, no dreams of eternal peace, nothing. Stumbling backwards and forwards, time had lost all significance or purpose. It taunted me with its irony, and I had only the power to remain still and watch and wait…wait for the change in seasons…wait for the stars to burn out in the sky."
Only love can end Selena’s own suffering, if you call it that. And boy does she suffer. But until then…
"Once a soul has surrendered to the urgings of their shadow, it takes a rare miracle indeed to bring them back. I was no such miracle. Yes, I answered their prayers – with deceit… Ritual. Living is a ritual, and so is dying."
Gardner does not romanticize death here. Logos is far from Victorian. She does not baptize us with the story of Revelation either. In a sense, she merely asks what if death was a woman? And if so, how would death be different? Selena may have harvested souls for centuries, she may have been witness to war and famine throughout history, but on the inside she still has a heart that yearns for more.
The history books don’t know her. The Bible may have mentioned her. But in the end, as Selena says, she is still the “sword in the shadows.” And the pale horse riding off into the sunset doesn’t just happen in fairy tales.
As I previously stated, Logos is best read in small doses so that you can absorb each and every word. Gardner does not waste any. Her prose are brilliant, and the imagery she paints will indeed haunt you. Part history, part religion, part supernatural horror, part romance, Gardner has written her best work yet. If Milton were alive today, he’d probably read this book and rededicate Paradise Lost to Cheryl Anne Gardner.