Originally published in 1998 by HarperCollins as the first of an intended line of Dark Shadows tie-in novels, the sprawling Angelique’s Descent has been condensed into a four-CD narrative performed by the woman who knows Angelique best. (In the second CD, this abridgement results in an oddly pared-down Collins family – several semi-important and not-as-important characters, as well as a certain governess, are absent from the proceedings – but this does allow Angelique and her doomed relationship with Barnabas to take centre stage.)
Parker put a great deal of research into the magicks and beliefs of the Caribbean and Africa, and this shows during Angelique’s childhood – she was venerated as an avatar of the goddess Erzuli by the Negro slaves who worked her father’s sugar cane plantation. This lead to years of isolation and boredom for her as he kept her locked away, lest his slaves discover the truth and rebel bloodily…
The Dark Shadows writers always gave Angelique’s character a certain amount of sympathy, and Parker’s portrayal added considerably to this. Unsurprisingly, Parker plays up this angle every chance she gets. Angelique’s circumstances and upbringing, plus her subsequent employment as a maid to a family of Parisians, left her always tantalized by the life she always wanted but cannot have, and envious of her mistress Josette, who wants for nothing and has never known any hardship.
Once Angelique and Barnabas meet, Angelique’s Descent veers into Harlequin Romance territory(or Mills & Boon for British audiences), with many heaving bosoms, breathless promises, illicit assignations and tearful interludes. Considering that he now portrays Barnabas in the Big Finish audio dramas, it’s surprising that Andrew Collins doesn’t portray him here. Instead, he voices the dark spirit who yearns for Angelique’s mortal soul should she keep using her powers – a part that amounts to little more than a cameo. While perhaps the intent was to preserve listeners’ memories of Parker and Jonathan Frid as Angelique and Barnabas, the interactions of two “live” actors would’ve given some scenes much more emotional impact than they do with Parker reacting against herself while playing both parts.
That being said, Parker does a credible job performing the various characters, employing few of her usual vocal mannerisms (as the Angelique we all love to hate hasn’t really developed yet); she’s particularly successful in capturing many of the late Grayson Hall’s tics as Countess Natalie DuPres, Josette’s insufferable aunt.
VERDICT: Despite moments of soppiness and perhaps one credibility-stretching revelation too many, Lara Parker paints an evocative portrait of the woman who puts Glenn Close’s Fatal Attraction character to shame. But even abridged, it’s a rather gradual descent… 6/10
John S. Hall
Dark Shadows: Angelique’s Descent – Innocence (disc one), Betrayal (disc two)
Written by Lara Parker, Abridged by Stuart Manning
Starring Lara Parker and Andrew Collins
Directed by Darren Gross
Click here to order from Big Finish.