Review: “Vittorio, The Vampire” By Anne Rice (Novel)

Well, it’s been a little while since I last read a horror novel. So, I thought that I’d take a look at Anne Rice’s 1999 novel “Vittorio, The Vampire”.

I ended up finding a second-hand copy of this book a few weeks ago, shortly after enjoying Rice’s “Pandora” and wanting to read the other novel in this short spin-off series from Rice’s main “Vampire Chronicles” series.

Interestingly, although “Vittorio, The Vampire” is a spin-off novel, it can still be read as a stand-alone novel – especially since even the opening chapters point out that it has little to no connection to Rice’s main “Vampire Chronicles” series, other than it is a novel narrated by a vampire. So, you can read this novel without having read any other Anne Rice novels beforehand.

So, let’s take a look at “Vittorio, The Vampire”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2000 Arrow (UK) paperback edition of “Vittorio, The Vampire” that I read.

The novel begins in rural Italy in the late 1990s. A vampire called Vittorio sits in the ruins of his ancestral castle and, at the request of some vampires that he barely knows from New Orleans, he decides to set his life story down on paper.

He begins with his idyllic childhood in the mid-15th century, where he was both a young scholar and a knight in training. His father was wealthy, his castle far from any place of strategic importance to any of the bands of mercenaries who fought wars between city states. Yet, in the midst of this idyll, young Vittorio begins to hear frightened whispers amongst his father’s friends and also begins to have nightmares about holding the severed heads of his younger siblings.

Shortly after Vittorio turns sixteen, there is a mysterious high-ranking visitor to the castle one night. Vittorio’s father meets him at the gate and sends him away, before rushing to the chapel and gathering his family around him. The night passes safely.

The next night, they are not so lucky. Vampires storm the castle and begin to massacre everyone. Vittorio hides in the crypt with his siblings, but cannot protect them. Furious, he tries to kill one of the vampires – a woman called Ursula – but fails. To his surprise, she persuades the other vampires to spare his life.

Alone in a castle filled with corpses, Vittorio swears revenge and begins a journey to find the vampires…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was much more of a horror novel than I’d expected 🙂

I’d expected something similar to the rich, sumptuous splendour of Rice’s “The Vampire Armand” and, whilst “Vittorio, The Vampire” certainly has elements of this, all of this novel’s beauty is also counterpointed by a decent amount of exquisitely creepy horror too 🙂 Plus, it is also a slightly faster-paced novel than I’d expected too 🙂

So, I should start by talking about the novel’s horror elements, and they are excellent 🙂 In addition to vampire horror, paranormal horror and a few moments of gory horror, this novel also includes lots of unsettling moments involving things like creepy places, moral horror, body horror, tragic horror, religious horror, sexual horror and psychological horror 🙂 Seriously, it is so good to see a gothic vampire novel that is actually scary 🙂

A lot of the novel’s creepiest horror elements revolve around themes of moral corruption and compromise, with the best examples of this probably being Vittorio’s character development throughout the story and a brilliantly disturbing segment set in a walled town that is just slightly too idyllic. If you’ve read dystopian sci-fi novels about flawed utopias, then you’ll probably know what to expect here, but the segment is still surprisingly creepy thanks to both it’s unexpected appearance in a historical gothic vampire novel and the very deft and subtle ways that the town’s horrifying secret is revealed to the reader.

Not only that, the novel’s horror also relies heavily on the contrast between beauty and disgust. But, unlike a 1980s splatterpunk novel, this isn’t achieved through the use of elaborate gruesome descriptions, but instead through the use of settings and places. As you would expect from an Anne Rice novel, this story is richly atmospheric and this is used to full effect here – whether it is a sumptuous castle populated by a court of satanic vampires or the contrast between the beautiful architecture of Florence and the deterioration of Vittorio’s mind, this novel uses the settings as a chillingly brilliant source of contrast 🙂

Another theme in this novel is the passage of time with, for example, the contrast between Vittorio’s outward youth and extreme age at the beginning of the novel or – even more dramatically – the fact that, during the progress and innovation of the renaissance, the main group of vampires in the story still lives like a medieval court and arrogantly assumes that this can continue forever. Given that vampire novels are often about the perks and perils of immortality, these background elements really help to add a lot of extra depth to the story 🙂

The novel also uses religion as both a source of drama and horror. Whether it is the “evil church” that the vampire court worships in, the fact that the ordinary church cannot protect Vittorio from the vampires, the religion-based inner conflict that rages in Vittorio’s mind for most of the novel, the way that the benevolence of a group of monks is contrasted with the evil of the vampire court or some unnervingly surreal psychological horror sequences featuring angels, this novel uses religious themes to brilliantly dramatic historical effect here.

Although I haven’t studied the history of renaissance Italy in great detail, the novel’s setting certainly feels complex, atmospheric and realistic enough, thanks to the excellent writing and a few well-placed references to various artists, the Medicis etc.. Interestingly though, this novel also sets itself apart from “The Vampire Armand” (which is also partially set in renaissance Italy) thanks to the fact that most of the story takes place in forests, castles and rural towns rather than opulent cities. This rural setting also lends the novel a slight medieval fantasy-style atmosphere too 🙂

In terms of the characters, this novel excels 🙂 Not only does Vittorio have a lot of personality and character development throughout the novel, but he also feels like a realistically flawed person who suffers from the earnestness and emotions of youth.

The novel’s vampire romance elements are also handled reasonably well, with the relationship between Vittorio and Ursula being a complicated and conflicted one, with some creepiness added to it by the subtle, bizarre and/or sneaky ways that Ursula tricks or manipulates Vittorio at various moments in the story. Yet, for all of her evil, Ursula is also more of a complicated – and sympathetic character than she first seems. Likewise, all of the novel’s background characters also feel like realistic people too.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s first-person narration is splendid 🙂 One of the cool things about this novel is that, at the beginning, Vittorio explicitly points out that he won’t be telling his story in some antiquated “historical” style (mostly because he has 500+ years worth of linguistic knowledge). What this means is that the novel not only contains the beautiful, sumptuous and descriptive gothic prose that you’d expect from an Anne Rice novel, but also more of an informal and “matter of fact” style too – which really helps to keep the story moving at a decent pace. The narration here is atmospheric, personality-filled and an absolute joy to read 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At 339 pages (excluding the bibliography), this novel feels fairly lean and efficient 🙂 Plus, although the novel is relatively slow to start, it is much faster-paced than I’d expected 🙂 This is one of those horror novels that gets more and more compelling as it goes along, so expect to read more pages than you plan to whenever you pick it up 🙂

As for how this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it has aged really well 🙂 Thanks to the historical setting, the story itself feels pretty much timeless – not to mention that the decision to mix more modern-style faster-paced narration with sumptuous, formal etc… descriptions means that this novel contains the very best elements of both modern fiction and slightly older fiction. Not only that, most of the novel’s horror still remains brilliantly creepy when read these days too 🙂

All in all, this novel is excellent 🙂 If you want an atmospheric, gothic vampire novel that also contains a decent amount of actual horror too, then this one is well worth reading 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “Pandora” by Anne Rice (Novel)

Well, ever since I enjoyed Anne Rice’s “The Vampire Armand” several months ago, I’ve been meaning to read another novel in Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles” series. But, after finding a second-hand copy of a spin-off novel from 1998 called “Pandora” online, I decided to read this instead.

Interestingly, although this novel is a spin-off from a fairly large series, it works reasonably well as a stand-alone novel (thanks to a lot of recaps in the earlier and later parts and a reasonably self-contained main story). But, if you’ve read any of the main “Vampire Chronicles” novels before this one, then you’ll probably get a little more out of it.

So, let’s take a look at “Pandora”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1999 Arrow (UK) paperback edition of “Pandora” that I read.

The novel begins in Paris in 1997. An ancient vampire called Pandora is sitting in a cafe and writing her life story in a notebook given to her by a younger vampire called David Talbot, who is trying to collect a library of these accounts from his fellow vampires. She begins by recounting how he met her whilst she was drinking from the heart of a lonely wanderer on a bridge, and how he persuaded her to set her story down on paper.

The story then flashes back to Pandora’s youth in Rome in 15 B.C. As the daughter of a wealthy senator during the more liberal and benevolent rule of Augustus, she is highly educated and her early life is an idyllic mixture of rituals, poetry reading, interesting discussions, social events etc.. Over the years that follow, she briefly meets a fascinating man called Marius, has a couple of marriages and also joins a hedonistic Egyptian cult for a while. Life is good, until Augustus dies and is replaced by a more despotic and tyrannical emperor called Tiberius.

When Pandora, now in her thirties, returns home one day, she finds that almost everyone is gone. Her father tells her that he has just recieved news that Tiberius’ elite guards are planning to massacre the entire family on account of some perceived disloyalty. He has arranged for his friends to spirit her out of the city and orders that she leaves at once. And, as she hides in a nearby merchant’s cart, she witnesses both his death and that of the two soldiers sent to kill him.

After this, she travels out of Rome by sea – but, on the voyage to Antioch, she starts to be troubled by strange dreams about ancient Egypt. Dreams that involve drinking blood…

One of the first things that I will say is that this is a wonderfully atmospheric, well-written, intelligent, gothic and compelling vampire novel 🙂 Yes, Rice’s more formal writing style may take a little while to get used to and the novel takes a little while for the main story to really become dramatic, but it is well worth sticking with it 🙂 Seriously, if you enjoy either historical fiction and/or vampire fiction, then this one is well worth reading. Not to mention that the fact that this is a novel that opens with someone writing in a notebook in a cafe (something I used to do a lot about a decade or so ago) instantly piqued my interest too 🙂

I should probably start by talking about this novel’s horror elements. Although it is slightly more of a historical drama story than a horror story, it still contains some horror elements 🙂 These mostly consist of psychological horror, tragic horror, vampire horror, a subtle hint of cosmic/existential horror, some suspense and a few moments of gory horror. This adds some much-needed gothic darkness to the novel, which contrasts really well with the beautifully-rendered historical settings and the joyful parts of Pandora’s life, in addition to making some parts of the story even more compelling and dramatic too 🙂

Although I haven’t studied the history in enough depth to talk about how accurate it is, the novel’s historical settings are really atmospheric 🙂 Plus, it is always cool to see either ancient Rome and/or ancient Egypt appear in the horror genre (see Rebecca Levene’s awesome “Anno Mortis” or Guy N. Smith’s brilliantly creepy “Accursed” for non-vampire examples of this).

The novel makes these settings feel both realistic and stylised at the same time, is filled with historical references and also includes a few interesting touches too (eg: in the segments set in ancient Rome, Antioch etc.. the word “vampire” – a later term- is never used. Instead, the characters refer to vampires as “blood drinkers”).

In true Anne Rice fashion, these settings are lavishly and vividly described in a way that could easily rival or surpass even the most large-budget TV series (like HBO’s “Rome” etc…) and, in keeping with the “aristocratic vampire” thing, the novel also focuses more on the upper classes of the time too. This both gives the main characters a lot more rights, freedoms, education etc.. whilst also adding some subtle unease and/or moral ambiguity to the story (eg: Pandora’s unthinking/uncritical attitudes towards slavery, the whims and cruelty of emperors etc…) that contrasts brilliantly with the sumptuous escapist fantasy of being rich in Roman times. Seriously, I really loved the historical elements of this novel 🙂

Thematically, this novel is about both the staying power of cultures and the transience of religions, whilst also exploring both the meaning of life and the limits of “reason” too. Like with Rice’s “The Vampire Armand”, this novel has a fairly spiritual quality to it (even including some vision/dream-based scenes that are both beautiful and horrifying) – but, unlike that novel, the ultimate message of “Pandora” is either an existentialist or a nihilist one, where even science and logic are presented as silly constructions in the face of the nothingness of death/eternity – with the only way to stay sane being to find one’s own meaning in life.

Likewise, the novel talks about how some elements of ancient Rome still survive in modern culture whilst also focusing on how personal revelation/experience/thought is a path to spiritual understanding (with all organised religions in the novel shown to either be short-lived cults, empty traditions, confidence tricks and/or authoritarian structures more interested in power than spirituality).

In terms of the characters, they are really well-written 🙂 Pandora gets the bulk of the novel’s characterisation and she comes across as a very realistic, interesting, morally-ambiguous, complex and intelligent character who also develops and changes over the course of the novel too. Likewise, a lot of the novel’s drama also comes from the characters too (eg: the way that Marius and Pandora’s contrasting views about the meaning of life gradually drive them apart, how Pandora uses rhetoric to defeat an enemy etc…) – which really helps to keep everything really compelling 🙂

As for the writing, it is superb 🙂 Although this novel’s first-person narration is written in a rather formal and/or old-fashioned style that might take a while to get used to, this not only allows Rice to add a lot of extra atmosphere, depth, vividness and personality to the novel – but it is also an absolutely perfect fit for the narrator (eg: a 2000+ year old aristocratic vampire), which really helps to cement the impression that you are actually reading a notebook that a vampire is casually writing in a cafe. Something further enhanced by the occasional well-placed fourth-wall break and/or Pandora’s asides about various things.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good 🙂 At 406 pages, with relatively large type, this novel is refreshingly concise compared to other novels I’ve seen by the author. Likewise, whilst this novel isn’t exactly fast-paced (and the recaps at the beginning can slow things down a bit), it remains compelling throughout – with the use of atmosphere, personality and/or suspense keeping even the more “uneventful” parts of the story interesting to read. Although some later parts of the story feel a bit rushed in comparison to the rest of the story, this kind of mirrors how memory works and also fits in well with the idea that Pandora is only spending two nights or so writing her life story.

As for how well this twenty-two year old novel has aged, it has aged fairly well 🙂 Not only do the historical segments give the story a more “timeless” feel, but the early scenes set in 1990s Paris have a wonderfully “90s” atmosphere too. Yes, the writing style is deliberately old-fashioned and some elements of the story (eg: the class politics of Roman society, the slavery of the time etc…) would probably be written about in a more explicitly critical way in a modern novel (plus, a brief segment about a transgender character late in the novel would probably be written slightly differently today too), but the story, atmosphere, characters etc… are still timelessly compelling.

All in all, this is a really brilliant vampire novel 🙂 It is atmospheric, intelligent and compelling, with some fascinating characters and brilliant writing. I probably haven’t done this book justice in this review, but it is one of those books that really shows off the power of the written word at its very best 🙂 If you love gothic fiction, vampires, ancient Egypt, ancient Rome/Antioch, writing in notebooks in cafes etc.. then this novel is well worth reading 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “The Vampire Armand” By Anne Rice (Novel)

Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d read an Anne Rice novel.

Although I once tried to read Rice’s “Interview With The Vampire” during my early twenties (after seeing the film), I just couldn’t get into it and ended up abandoning it after about a hundred pages. But, about a week before writing this review, I happened to find a copy of Rice’s 1998 novel “The Vampire Armand” in a second-hand bookshop in Emsworth and decided to take a look at it. I’m so glad that I did 🙂

However, I should probably point out that this novel is apparently the sixth novel in a series. Although most of the novel works fairly well as a stand-alone book, the beginning and one recap-heavy segment later in the book can be a little confusing if, like me, you haven’t read the previous five books in the series. But, don’t let this put you off.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “The Vampire Armand”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1999 Arrow (UK) paperback edition of “The Vampire Armand” that I read.

The novel begins in an abandoned church in New Orleans during the late 1990s. A powerful vampire called Lestat lies in some kind of coma and is visited by other vampires. One of those vampires is Armand, a centuries-old vampire who can see ghosts and who still looks like the seventeen year old boy he was when he became a vampire.

After meeting another vampire called Marius and discussing two humans that Armand has taken under his wing, Armand is accosted by a body-swapping man called David Talbot who wants to write a book about Armand’s life story.

After some discussion and a spot of blood-drinking, Armand reluctantly agrees to dictate his life story – an epic tale of cruelty, poverty, opulence, tragedy, delight, despair and spiritual visions.

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is WOW 🙂 This novel is magnificent 🙂 Whether it is the atmosphere, the characters or the exquisite writing, this novel is almost transcendent at times 🙂 Yes, there are some pacing problems later in the book, but these flaws are overshadowed by the sheer quality of this novel.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, there aren’t really as many as I’d expected. Yes, there are scenes of gory horror, gothic horror, paranormal horror, character-based horror, cruel horror and tragic horror but this is more of an atmospheric, gothic and sometimes bleak novel about the bittersweet life of a vampire than anything actually frightening.

Even so, this novel can certainly be disturbing sometimes! For example, it is implied that Armand is only in his early-mid teens during certain story events set in Venice. But, because Armand is narrating and has very rose-tinted memories of this part of his life, these events aren’t always described in the “disturbing” way you would expect them to be. This contrast between narration and story is incredibly unsettling – and I was actually going to criticise the novel for it before I suddenly realised that it was very much an intentional horror effect.

This is a novel that is about as different from a traditional horror novel as you can get, yet it is a horror novel nonetheless.

There are so many fascinating themes in this novel. Whether it is loneliness, religion, memory, identity, the nature of stories, history etc… this is a novel that certainly doesn’t shy away from intellectual and emotional depth.

It is a powerful, resplendent tale that runs the gamut from delight to despair. It is the kind of book which, when it is at it’s best, will seem like more than just a book. It is a complex novel that will require effort to read, but will reward you for putting in this effort.

In terms of the characters, they are really well-written. Although the novel mostly focuses on Armand’s long and complicated life, many of the other characters also get a fairly decent amount of characterisation too. Still, Armand is very much the centre of this novel and he’s such a fascinating guy. He is, at the same time, someone who wants to enjoy life, a monk-like scholar, a pompous aristocrat, a lonely man, a bitter cynic and a petulant questioner. Seriously, as vampire characters go, he’s one of the best that I’ve ever seen 🙂

The writing in this novel is absolutely excellent too. The novel’s first-person narration (from Armand’s perspective) is written in the kind of opulent, complex, beautiful and formal style that you would expect from a centuries-old vampire. Yes, this ultra-formal 19th century-like writing style takes a little while to get used to and it slows the story down a bit, but it adds so much depth and atmosphere to the novel 🙂 Plus, the novel also includes a few fourth wall breaking moments and even a couple of 1990s pop culture references (eg: the “Romeo and Juliet” film, the X-Files etc..) too.

Seriously, I cannot praise the atmosphere of this novel enough. Whether it is the gloomy, snowy scenes set in 1990s America or the opulent splendour of Renaissance Venice, this novel is one of the most atmospheric books that I’ve read in a while 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At 520 pages in length, it is a fairly long novel and yet it pretty much justifies it’s length. Likewise, although the story is fairly slow-paced, a lot of it is so atmospheric and compelling that you probably won’t mind.

The only real criticism I have of the pacing is how the book will sometimes gloss over whole centuries and/or recap previous books in the space of a few pages, which can feel a bit abrupt, glib, dull or confusing. Still, these parts only make up a relatively small portion of the book (eg: the segment between half and three-quarters of the way through the book).

In terms of how this twenty-one year old book has aged, it has aged really well. In a lot of ways, this is due to the historical setting of most of the story and the fact that the 19th century style narration is a really good fit with the narrator. Yes, the writing style is probably more formal and “slow-paced” than you’d expect in a modern novel, but it is still pretty much timeless.

All in all, this novel is amazing 🙂 Yes, the pacing isn’t always perfect, but there are so many amazing moments, beautiful descriptions, atmospheric locations, fascinating characters, intellectual moments, gothic moments etc.. here that this novel is still worth reading. If you enjoy atmospheric vampire fiction or just want an epic, sumptuous gothic tale, then I can’t recommend this book highly enough 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

Review: “Lifeblood” By P. N. Elrod (Novel)

Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d bend the rules slightly. This is mostly because I needed a slight break from “traditional” horror fiction, but still wanted to read something horror-related.

So, I thought that this was the time to finally read the second hardboiled vampire detective/crime thriller novel (a novel from 1990 called “Lifeblood”) in the second-hand P.N.Elrod omnibus that I bought several months ago.

However, I should point out that “Lifeblood” is a sequel to Elrod’s “Bloodlist” and the novel pretty much assumes that you already know the main characters, backstory etc… Whilst it’s probably theoretically possible to read this novel as a stand-alone story, it’ll make more sense and you’ll get a lot more out of it if you read “Bloodlist” first.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Lifeblood”. Needless to say, this review may contain some moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2003 Ace (US) paperback omnibus that contained the reprint of “Lifeblood” (1990) that I read.

The novel begins in mid-1930s Chicago with world-weary ex-reporter, and vampire, Jack Fleming ordering a drink in a dive bar. Of course, he overhears a mysterious conversation between several other patrons. It isn’t long before things start going wrong and he finds himself in the middle of one of his friend Escott’s cases. A case which would have gone to plan if Escott’s client hadn’t marked the bills Escott was supposed to hand over to the criminals.

After narrowly escaping with their lives and recovering their client’s stolen property, Escott is absolutely furious and decides to play a cruel practical joke on the client to teach him a lesson. Soon after this, things return to normal. Jack spends some time with his lover Bobbi and Escott continues renovating his house.

But, things don’t stay that way for long. Not only does Jack notice a mysterious car following him, but someone also contacts him about his long-lost ex-lover (and the vampire that turned him) Maureen….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it takes a little while for the main story to really get started, it’s a really compelling “film noir” vampire novel 🙂 If you like stories by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane etc… but wish they contained a little bit of vampirism, then you’re in luck 🙂

In terms of this novel’s horror elements, there aren’t that many. Some of the later parts of the story include some moments of gory horror, sadistic horror, suspenseful horror and character-based horror, but not that much more than you’d expect from a gritty 1920s-50s style hardboiled detective novel. Even so, vampirism is a central element of the plot and, in addition to a few intriguing plot points, there are also a couple of cool references to “Varney The Vampire” and even a brief H.P.Lovecraft reference too 🙂

Like in “Bloodlist”, Jack’s vampiric state gives him a few extra powers (eg: fast healing, walking through walls etc..) but these are also offset by a number of limitations (eg: wooden weapons are especially harmful, he can’t cross running water, he can’t walk in daylight, he has to sleep near earth from his home) which help to keep many parts of the story suitably suspenseful 🙂

Still, as a hardboiled crime thriller, this novel works fairly well. Whilst you shouldn’t expect an ultra-complicated “I need to take notes!” Raymond Chandler-style plot, the slightly more streamlined plot works really well and there are enough sources of suspense to keep the story interesting. However, this novel is probably slightly more of a thriller novel than a detective novel. Even so, there’s enough chases, armed men suddenly bursting into rooms and mystery to keep things compelling.

Plus, I absolutely love the atmosphere in this novel 🙂 One of the cool things about P.N.Elrod’s vampire detective novels is how they are able to tread a fine line between the wondeful “film noir”-style atmosphere of 1930s Chicago, whilst also including some really cool Sherlock Holmes-style stuff too. Whilst you shouldn’t expect complex deductions, Jack’s sidekick Escott is a vaguely Holmes-like character (eg: a master of disguise with a keen mind, an impish sense of humour, a pipe and a slightly posh turn of phrase) and he really adds a lot to this series 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. I’ve already mentioned how much Escott adds to the story, especially when contrasted with Jack (who is a slightly more typical hardboiled protagonist, albeit a vampire). But, although many of the characters get the kind of vivid and briefly-sketched characterisation you’d expect from a hardboiled detective novel, the novel’s villains are especially dramatic. I don’t want to spoil too much, but they’re certainly good antagonists for Jack.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good 🙂 As you would expect, the novel’s first-person narration is written in the kind of “matter of fact” but descriptive style that you’d expect from a 1930s-style hardboiled crime novel 🙂 Seriously, the writing style really helps to add a lot of atmosphere to this novel.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At an efficient 151 pages in the omnibus edition I read (with slightly larger pages), this novel never feels too long 🙂 Likewise, whilst the beginning is brilliantly disorientating (by dropping the reader into the middle of a case and only explaining everything afterwards), the novel does slow down a bit for some of the middle parts. Even so, the pace gradually builds again and the last third of this novel is a lot more gripping than you might expect 🙂

As for how this twenty-nine year old novel has aged, it has aged really well 🙂 Thanks to the historical setting and the hardboiled writing, this novel almost feels like it could have been written any time in the past ninety years. Plus, one advantage of it being a relatively modern novel in this genre is that there aren’t really any of the “dated in a bad way” elements you can sometimes find in actual vintage hardboiled novels.

All in all, this is a really compelling hardboiled vampire novel 🙂 The atmosphere is absolutely wonderful, the main characters are really interesting and, although the beginning and ending are more gripping than the middle, it’s still a really compelling story 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Falling Apart” By Jane Lovering (Novel)

Well, after I read Jane Lovering’s “Vampire State Of Mind” about three months ago (after a family member thought that I’d like the series and gave me both novels), I’ve been meaning to read the sequel. But, of course, I got distracted by other books. So, three months later, I decided to finally take a look at “Falling Apart” (2014).

Although this novel can possibly be read as a stand-alone book (since it contains some recaps), the story will have much more of an impact if you’ve already got to know the characters before reading it.

So, let’s take a look at “Falling Apart”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2014 Choc Lit (UK) paperback edition of “Falling Apart” that I read.

Jess Grant works for York Council as a liason officer between the human population and the city’s “otherworlders” (eg: vampires, werewolves etc..). After the events of the previous book, she is in a relationship with one of the leading local vampires called Sil. However, Jess is worried. Not only hasn’t she heard from Sil for several days, but even his nominal second-in-command, Zan, doesn’t know where he has gone…

Meanwhile, Sil is in London. He is visiting some kind of official records office when someone walks into the building and shoots him. He falls unconscious whilst his body heals and, when he wakes up, he is trapped in some kind of small underground tomb.

Back in York, things are going from bad to worse for Jess. Not only is there still no word from Sil, but her father has been taken to hospital and the tabloid press have started hounding her over abandoning a case to visit him. On the streets, right-wing hooligans are also harassing the city’s zombie population.

But, even worse than this, an online newsfeed arrives at Jess’ office showing Sil going on a blood-spattered feeding frenzy through the streets of London. Under the terms of the treaty between humanity and the otherworlders, Sil must be hunted down and killed….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a bit more of a streamlined and compelling thriller than “Vampire State Of Mind” was. The romance is more passionate, the story is more suspenseful and there is also more backstory too 🙂 In other words, this novel is a really good sequel 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements. Although there are a few fight scenes, this is much more of a suspense thriller/detective thriller novel with some hints of the spy genre too. Not only is Sil in constant danger throughout the novel, but Jess has to both keep him hidden and find a way to clear his name too. So, there’s a lot of sneaking around, secret research and other suspenseful stuff like this 🙂

The novel also has an interesting sub-plot about Jess helping out the city’s zombies, who are targeted by right-wing extremists and who work dangerous jobs for little to no pay. This sub-plot links in well with the main plot and helps to add a bit of extra drama to the story. The novel’s depiction of zombies is fairly interesting too since, amongst other things, they have to keep their disintegrating bodies together with the use of copious amounts of glue.

Like in “Vampire State Of Mind”, this novel also contains a fair amount of humour too. Although this is slightly more understated than in the previous novel, there is a fair amount of irreverent humour, sarcastic dialogue, amusing descriptions etc… If you like the humour in Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” novels, then you’ll probably enjoy the humour here 🙂

The novel’s romance elements are really brilliant too. Since Sil and Jess are already in a relationship at the start of the novel, their romance feels a bit more intense and suspenseful. This is also emphasised by things like Jess’ uncertainties about Sil, the danger that both characters are in, the scenes where the two characters miss each other and – since Sil is wanted criminal- the passionate scenes of forbidden love too. Seriously, I haven’t seen vampire romance as good as this since I read Jocyelnn Drake’s “Dark Days” series.

In terms of the characters, they are really well-written. This is one of those novels that works really well because of the characters. In addition to learning a bit more about Jess’ past, Zan gets a lot more characterisation in this novel – since Jess is uncertain whether or not she can trust him (given that he is a “lawful good” character who seems eager to report Sil). Likewise, all of the main characters get a fair amount of character development too. Seriously, the characters in this novel are really good.

In terms of the writing, it is fairly good. Although this novel does do the annoying thing of switching between first and third-person narration at times, the narrative voice is the readable, informal, amusing and emotional narration that you’d expect 🙂 As I mentioned in my review of “Vampire State Of Mind”, the narration in this series reminds me a bit of a slightly understated version of the excellent narration in Jodi Taylor’s awesome “Chronicles Of St.Mary’s” series 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good 🙂 At an efficient 274 pages, the story never feels too long. Likewise, the story remains compelling and well-paced throughout. Plus, although the main storyline is resolved, there is also more than enough room for a really epic sequel (if it is ever written).

All in all, this is a fairly compelling and suspenseful vampire thriller novel and an excellent sequel to “Vampire State Of Mind” 🙂 The plot feels more focused, the romance seems more intense and both the characters and humour are as good as ever.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Sunglasses After Dark” By Nancy A. Collins (Novel)

Well, after I finished reading Whitley Strieber’s “The Hunger” a couple of weeks ago, I was in the mood for another 1980s vampire novel. After a bit of searching online, I ended up learning about a vampire novel from 1989 called “Sunglasses After Dark” by Nancy A. Collins.

Although I’d originally planned to get the hardback version (due to the cool cover art), I happened to find a second-hand omnibus of the first three novels in the series. Although I’m terrible when it comes to actually finishing omnibuses, the cover art had a wonderfully ’90s look to it that reminded me of the cover art for Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics.

However, I should probably point out that I had something of a cold when I read this novel, which slowed me down a bit and put me in a bit of a miserable/cynical mood. So, it is probably worth bearing this in mind when reading this review.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Sunglasses After Dark”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1995 White Wolf (US) paperback omnibus which contained the version of “Sunglasses After Dark” that I read.

The novel begins in a mental hospital called Elysian Fields. An orderly called Claude is guarding the “danger ward”, which has been more chaotic than usual ever since a mysterious new patient arrived. A strange woman who gives the other patients nightmares and has even bitten the neck of another staff member.

From inside a padded cell, Sonja Blue waits for her body to process the sedatives that the doctors have given her. When her body regains its strength, she breaks out of the cell and goes off in search of revenge.

During Sonja’s escape, Claude has a mysterious vision of a woman called Denise Thorne. And, after Claude is fired from the hospital for letting Sonja escape, he decides to search for her…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, despite some structural/pacing problems and a much darker emotional tone than I’d expected, this novel does have some rather cool moments. In essence, this is a short novel that would have been so much better as a novella or even an extended short story. Even so, it’s cool to see a “badass anti-hero” vampire novel from as early as the late 1980s.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they were a lot more extreme than I’d expected. Whilst this novel contains the usual gory horror, suspense and paranormal horror that you would expect from a vampire thriller, there’s also a disturbingly large amount of emphasis on psychological horror, taboo-based horror, sexual horror/violence and sadistic cruelty.

In essence, this novel is perhaps too disturbing for something that looks like a fun gothic vampire thriller at first glance. Seriously, there is a lot of very dark subject matter in this novel and it will catch you by surprise if you were expecting a vampire thriller in the style of Jocelynn Drake, Laurell K. Hamilton etc… Plus, even when compared to the classic splatterpunk authors of the 1980s, this book is still very much on the “edgy” side of things.

In terms of the novel’s paranormal elements and depiction of vampirism, it is fairly innovative. In addition to being partially or wholly possessed by demonic entities, the novel’s vampires can also feed off of negative emotions, they can walk in sunlight/eat garlic/touch crosses, everyone they bite can turn into a vampire, they can use psychic powers and – like zombies- can only be killed by destroying their brains. In fact, there’s an interesting cross-over with the zombie genre here, since if a vampire turns several days after it’s host dies, then it becomes a zombie-like creature.

Likewise, there are a few other paranormal characters in this novel too – including a surprisingly creepy ogre, various types of angels & demons and psychic humans. In addition to this, there is the usual “secret paranormal world” thing in this novel too. But, although this novel is probably slightly more of a horror novel than an urban fantasy novel, these fantastical elements help to add a bit more mystery and drama to the story.

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, this novel can be a really good thriller when it wants to be. The story starts out with a really mysterious and gripping plot but, just when it is really starting to get gripping, the novel then suddenly devotes about sixty pages or so to flashbacks showing Sonja’s grim, harsh and depressing backstory.

Although this giant backstory segment contains some fast-paced moments and an interesting range of locations (eg: London, Paris, Japan, Hong Kong etc..), it distracts from the more compelling main plot. Not only that, there is next to no suspense in this segment, since you’ll already know who survives and who doesn’t thanks to the earlier parts of the novel. Still, the later parts of the novel become a lot more thrilling and fast-paced when the story picks up the main plot again.

In terms of the characters, there is a fairly interesting cast of main characters. However, as mentioned earlier, there is perhaps too much characterisation in this story (to the point where it distracts from the main plot). Although Sonja is a pretty dramatic “badass anti-hero” character who also struggles with the demonic creature attached to her soul, this novel’s approach to characterisation/backstory mostly consists of filling the protagonist and antagonist’s backstories with pretty much every depressing real world horror you can think of.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s narration is slightly more fast-paced and “matter of fact” than most other 1980s horror novels I’ve read. Even so, the novel uses a slightly annoying mixture of third and first-person narration (in addition to things like interview transcripts etc..). Although you’ll probably get used to this after a while and it does help to add a feeling of unreliable narration to the story, this novel would have been more readable with a fixed first or third-person perspective.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel isn’t as good as it initially seems. Although this novel is a reassuringly slender 185 pages long in the large omnibus that I read, it seems like the kind of story that would be better as a novella or a short story. As I’ve mentioned before, the giant backstory segment really distracts from what is otherwise a rather gripping and fast-paced thriller novel.

In terms of how this thirty-year old novel has aged, it has aged fairly well. Although there are a few uses of dated language, the novel almost reads like something that could have been written today. The only real clue that this is an older novel is the 1990s-style focus on being as “dark and edgy” as possible. Still, for a novel from the late 1980s, it is at least slightly ahead of it’s time.

All in all, whilst this novel has some cool moments, the story’s pacing would be so much better if it was a novella or a short story. Likewise, don’t go into this story expecting a fun vampire thriller. This is an extremely “dark and edgy” novel that will probably cause even experienced readers of horror fiction to recoil in revulsion at least a few times. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and three-quarters.

Review: “The Hunger” By Whitley Strieber (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for another 1980s horror novel. So, I thought that it was finally time to read the copy of Whitley Strieber’s 1980 novel “The Hunger” that I found by accident whilst searching through one of my book piles for another novel several weeks earlier. If I remember rightly, this was a novel that I originally found in a charity shop in Aberystwyth sometime during late 2009/early 2010.

So, let’s take a look at “The Hunger”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1985 Corgi (UK) paperback edition of “The Hunger” that I read.

The novel begins at 3am in Long Island, with a man called John Blaylock breaking into a house in order to murder a teenager called Kaye. He has planned the crime meticulously and he carries it out with ruthless efficiency. But, after the dastardly deed is done, he bites his victim’s neck and we learn that John is a vampire.

Not only that, he lives in a nice suburban house with a much older vampire called Miriam and her young human protege Alice. Although they have to keep their vampiric nature secret from both Alice and the world, Miriam and John live a relatively happy life together – filled with classical music, beautiful gardens and passionate romance.

However, after John returns from his latest killing, Miriam senses that something is wrong with him. Like all of the previous people she has turned into vampires, John has finally started to age at an accelerated rate. Soon, his vampiric hunger will overwhelm him and turn him into little more than a beast. Still, she has read about a scientist called Sarah Roberts who has been conducting promising research into treatments that could prevent ageing. So, Miriam decides to seek her out…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a lot creepier than I expected. Yes, it has some flaws, but if you want a vampire story that will actually frighten you, then this one is worth reading.

Seriously, I cannot praise this novel’s horror elements highly enough 🙂 It contains a wonderfully disturbing mixture of psychological horror, character-based horror, medical/scientific horror, gory horror, body horror, tragic horror, sexual horror, paranormal horror, claustrophobic horror, suspenseful horror, cruel horror, slasher movie-style horror and criminal horror too.

This is the kind of novel that won’t shock you that often, but will instead leave you in a decidedly unsettled mood after you’ve read it (kind of a bit like playing “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines).

The main source of the novel’s horror is probably the exquisitely disturbing main character, Miriam. She’s an extremely evil character, but the novel shows us enough of her tragic backstory (through some really atmospheric historical flashback scenes) and profound feelings of loneliness to actually make the reader feel sorry for her – only to then recoil with disgust when they realise what a monster they have been sympathising with.

The novel’s portrayal of vampirism is fairly inventive too. In essence, vampires are initially presented as serial killers and, later, as some kind of “Mimic“-like predatory species. They quite literally suck the life out of people, leaving their victims little more than shrivelled husks. They can also sire new vampires, who end up turning into frenzied, decaying monsters after 200-1000 years. They can walk in daylight and aren’t affected by garlic or crosses. Their only weaknesses are that they involuntarily fall asleep for six hours a day (with vivid nightmares) and need to bite someone once a week.

As the title suggests, this is a novel about hunger. In addition to the vampires’ hunger for blood, this novel is also about hunger for companionship, for food, for pleasure etc.. In essence, it is a novel about how hedonism is an integral part of humanity. And, in the tradition of 1980s horror novels, this isn’t really a novel for the prudish either.

In terms of the characters, there’s a lot of characterisation in this novel. Good horror relies on characterisation and this novel doesn’t disappoint. Although some of the characters may seem a little bit stylised, stereotypical and/or cheesy, there’s often enough characterisation here to make you care about them. Likewise, as mentioned earlier, Miriam is one of the creepiest vampire characters I’ve seen in a while.

In terms of the writing, it is both brilliant and terrible at the same time. The novel’s third-person narration uses a rather descriptive, formal and/or melodramatic style which can seem incredibly corny at times but, when you get used to it, really helps to add a lot of atmosphere and depth to the story. Yes, this makes the story a bit slow-paced but, once you get used to the writing style, then it really helps to breathe life into the story.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit strange. At 249 pages in length, it initially seemed like the kind of gloriously short novel that used to be standard in the good old days. However, thanks to the writing style, this novel is a lot more slow-paced than you might expect. Still, the fact that it uses a thriller-style structure and the fact that the level of suspense increases throughout the story means that the later parts of the novel were compelling enough to binge-read 🙂

In terms of how this thirty-nine year old novel has aged, it’s a bit complicated. The story itself is still compelling and the horror is, if anything, even more creepy than it probably was in the early 1980s. However, the writing style is a bit old-fashioned, there are some dated and/or stereotypical depictions of LGBT characters and the science/technology elements of the book will also seem fairly dated too.

All in all, even though this isn’t always a perfect novel, it is still an incredibly compelling, atmospheric and creepy vampire novel. Seriously, I’m genuinely shocked that a vampire novel can be this scary. If you want an inventive version of a familiar genre, then this book is well worth reading.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would maybe get a four.