As I mentioned a few days ago, I’d originally planned to review “The Storm” by Clive Cussler & Graham Brown. But, due to various reasons, I ended up abandoning it after about forty pages. Since I didn’t want to fall out of the habit of reading regulary again, I wondered about what to read next. Luckily, since I read a lot during my teenage years and early twenties, I’m not exactly short of books.
So, digging around in the outer layer of one of my book piles, I found a novel from 2008 called “Nightwalker” by Jocelynn Drake that I’d forgotten that I owned. From the book’s condition and the publication date, I must have bought a new copy of this novel about 8-10 years ago. It was probably the coolest-looking paperback in the slender “horror” shelf of a Waterstones’ somewhere.
Although I somehow had no memory of reading “Nightwalker” before, the occasional dog-eared page and the pencil marks on a few pages (I always used to mark my place in a book with pencil, a habit I picked up when I was at school where some [expletives deleted] or other would think it was funny to remove the bookmark from whatever I was reading) showed me that I’d previously read about a third of this novel before abandoning it. Yet, I didn’t remember reading it. Eeerie!
Naturally, I was curious. So, let’s take a look at “Nightwalker”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.
“Nightwalker” begins in the American city of Savannah. Local vampire leader, Mira, has been stalking a mysterious vampire hunter called Danaus who entered the city a month earlier and has slowly been picking off the city’s vampire population. Finally, she decides that enough is enough and confronts him. Yet, although he’s a formidable foe, she notices that he tries not to use lethal force during their fight. In fact, he wants to talk to her.
To Mira’s surprise, Danaus produces an ancient dagger that could have only come from a member of a supernatural foe called the Naturi – faerie-like creatures who are a mortal threat to both humanity and vampires. Something that Mira knows all too well after suffering torture at the hands of the Naturi hundreds of years ago, before their banishment from the Earth via a vampiric ritual.
Since the ancient dagger belongs to Nerian – the Naturi’s head torturer – Mira decides to let Danaus live. A decision helped by the fact that he tells her that he has captured Nerian and is willing to let her get revenge.
After a brief, and bloody, conversation with Nerian, Mira realises that the Naturi are planning to return to Earth in force. Reluctantly teaming up with Danaus, she decides to investigate….
One of the first things that I will say about “Nightwalker” is that it’s one of the coolest novels I’ve read recently 🙂
The earlier parts of the novel pulse with the kind of richly gothic atmosphere, sensuous decadence and complex backstory of something like “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines“. There are nightclubs, leather trenchcoats, vampire politics and all sorts of other cool stuff. And, as the novel progressed, it also reminded me a lot of an absolutely badass action/horror film called “Underworld” too. Needless to say, I’ve already ordered the next two books in the series…
Anyway, one of the really cool things about “Nightwalker” is how it blends the horror, thriller, fantasy and romance genres. A lot of the novel’s horror elements consist of both subtle background things (eg: flashbacks, nightmares, creepy characters, mournful tragedy, mentions of horrific events, menacing meetings etc..) and the kind of sharp, merciless, blood-drenched horror that you’d expect from a good vampire novel.
The novel’s action thriller events consist of some brilliantly badass fight scenes, culminating in a brilliantly epic battle later in the story. The novel’s fantasy elements help to set up the background of the story, and the story’s depiction of magic follows reasonably well-defined rules (that stop it from becoming silly). Finally, although the story contains relatively little in the way of overt romance, the story sizzles with seductive sensousness at almost every opportunity – which really helps to add to the gothic and vampiric atmosphere of the story.
The narration in this story is, in a word, perfect. The novel is narrated by Mira and this not only allows the reader to vicariously experience being an utterly badass and powerful vampire, but it also gives the story the level of intensity that it deserves. Every thought and sensation that Mira experiences is relayed to the reader in lush, vivid, immediate and intense prose. The story’s narration also deftly switches between the kind of rich, slow, descriptive and atmospheric narration that you would expect in a gothic novel and the kind of short, sharp, fast narration that you’d expect from a thriller novel.
The novel’s structure, settings and pacing are absolutely brilliant too. Although the novel begins as a slightly slower and more atmospheric gothic novel, the pace gradually gets quicker and quicker as the story builds in intensity. Not only that, the story has a classic three-act structure. It begins in Savannah, the middle takes place in Egypt and the dramatic conclusion happens in London and Stonehenge.
Needless to say, all of these settings are really interesting. Savannah is depicted in the kind of gloriously ultra-gothic way that you’d expect to find in a game like “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” or in a novel like “Lost Souls“. Egypt is shown to be a timeless land that holds great power, great mystery and great danger. And, since I’m British, I was quite amused to see part of the story set here (that also includes a vaguely non-London setting [Stonehenge] at one point too…).
Although I could nitpick about a few small details (eg: a British character calling Mira a “wanker” – this insult is traditionally only used to describe men), I really loved how the story depicts a gleefully stylised version of Britain filled with 1970s-style punks and ancient wizards/scholars who live in gloomy old buildings 🙂 Plus, extra bonus points for referring to London/Britain as “ultracivilised” too, which brought an ironic smile to my face.
However, I should mention that this novel is the first novel in a series. Although it fortunately doesn’t end on a major cliffhanger, and there is some sense of resolution at the end of the story, it is still very much the beginning of a longer story. Without spoiling the ending too much, it mostly resolves the main thread of the story, whilst also very clearly setting the reader up for the sequel and leaving some major underlying plot points unresolved.
The novel’s characters are absolutely brilliant too. Not only is Mira more of a complex protagonist than she initially appears to be, Danaus is also a wonderfully mysterious and handsome sidekick too. Likewise, Mira’s complex relationship with her handsome human bodyguards is also fairly interesting too. The novel’s vampires, werewolves, hunters and magicians are also shown to be complex characters too (with, for example, many hunters only hunting because they have false information about vampires). Likewise, the Naturi are an absolutely brilliant foe – since they’re this creepily chilling subversion of the “goodness” that people typically associate with faeries, nature spirits etc…
The novel’s depiction of vampirism is pretty interesting too. Although it follows some of the traditions of the genre (eg: vampires need to drink blood, they can’t enter churches, they’re allergic to sunlight etc..), it also adds a few interesting new things too. For example, vampires are shown to possess a type of extra-sensory perception that allows them to “scan” the nearby area for humans and other vampires (but not, unfortunately, Naturi).
All in all, this is an absolutely brilliant vampire thriller novel 🙂 If you love games like “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines”, TV shows like “Angel” and movies like “Underworld”, then you’ll love this novel. It’s dark, gothic, sensuous, gripping, thrilling, atmospheric and bloody. Yes, it’s part of a larger series, but it’s still an utterly awesome novel in it’s own right. Seriously, there needs to be a film/videogame adaptation of this book!
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.