Valery Bruisov is an interesting character in literary history. He lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when revolution was brewing in Russia and the people were rejecting traditional beliefs and cultural conventions.
Spiritualism, the occult, and fin de siecle decadence were fashionable among the Russian intelligensia in this era. Bruisov himself was an authority on the occult. He performed seances and magic rituals and was even rumoured to use witchcraft against his enemies.
He is described as having had a very mephistophelean appearance with arching mongol eyebrows and a black pointed beard on his chin. He cut a very satanic figure as the self created leader of the poets, novelists, and artists of the russian decadent and symbolist movements. He was considered a magus, an expert in the black arts, and some considered him a villian. There are stories of magical battles and a duel.
The Fiery Angel is his masterpiece. A historical novel set in medieval Germany, it is the story of a knight named Rupprecht who has just returned from the new world. He stops at an inn to rest for the night. He hears a womans cries coming from the next room. When he investigates he finds a woman lying on the floor convulsing wildly, apparently possessed by devils.
After the convulsions pass the woman tells Rupprecht that her name is Renata and that she has been visited since childhood by a beautiful angel with fiery golden hair and blue eyes. She says the angel came to her in human form using the name Count Heinrich. They had been married, she claimed, and gone to live in his castle. Recently the Count had changed suddenly and left her and she was desperately trying to find him. She implored Rupprecht to help her and not to leave her alone because devils or evil spirits pursued her and might attack and possess her again at any moment.
Rupprecht falls for Renata immediately and sets off with her to help her find her Count Heinrich. A series of misadventures follows in which Rupprecht and Renata study occult manuscripts and perform a complex ritual in a magic circle in an attempt to enlist the aid of the spirit world in Renata's desperate quest.
Further adventures include a flight to a witches sabbat, after liberally applying hallucinagenic flying ointment, where Satan himself, addressed as Master Leonard, holds a black mass complete with orgy. Later our knight Rupprecht visits the famous Magus, Doctor Agrippa of Nettesheim, and meets Doctor Faustus and Mephistopheles, becoming their traveling companion.
The story is told in a style similar to Boccaccio's bawdy and amusing Decameron and is filled with more accurate historical detail and medieval occult arcana than you can shake a satanic stick at, and there's lots of sex.
There is a wonderful afterword to the book written by Gary Lachman, a founding member of Blondie, filled with lots of juicy details about Valery Bruisov's fascinating life and about the real life love triangle that inspired the one between Rupprecht, Renata, and Count Heinrich in the book .
The Fiery Angel was translated by Igor Montague and Sergei Nalbandov and is yet another lost classic rescued for us by Dedalus Books. God love em..or in this case perhaps, Satan.