Review: “Bound To Me” By Jocelynn Drake (Novella)

Fairly soon after I had finished reading Jocelynn Drake’s amazing “Dark Days” series (you can find my reviews of it here, here, here, here, here and here ), I was in a rather melancholy mood. This amazing series was at an end and I missed it.

And then I remembered that there was a prequel novella called “Bound To Me” – and, after looking online, I realised that there was actually a paperback edition of it out there 🙂 So, no prizes for guessing what I’ll be reviewing today.

However, although “Bound To Me” is a prequel to the ‘Dark Days’ series and can be read as a (mostly) self-contained story, it’s worth reading the entire “Dark Days” series before you read this novella. This is because a lot of references, character cameos etc.. will make more sense if you’ve read the other novels first.

So, let’s take a look at “Bound To Me”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2012 Harper Voyager (US/Can ?) paperback edition of “Bound To Me” that I read.

The novella begins in London during some unspecified period of history (implied to be the 19th century). The red-haired vampire Mira and her beloved, Valerio, are having an entertaining evening causing scandal at an aristocratic dinner party. Afterwards, they return home to spend some quality time together. However, they are soon interrupted by a mysterious visitor who carries a message from the vampire coven.

According to the messenger, both Mira and Valerio have been summoned to Venice because the coven has an important mission for them……

One of the first things that I will say about this novella is… wow! It is quite literally a miniature “Dark Days” novel 🙂 There’s a good mixture of Machiavellian vampire politics, steamy romance, interesting locations and even a couple of brief action-thriller moments too. It is literally a small “Dark Days” novel and reading it felt just like returning to something warm and familiar again.

And, yes, there’s a lot of wonderfully familiar stuff here. Not only do we get to see more of Mira and Valerio’s backstory, but a few other familiar faces turn up too. We get to see Jabari, Elizabeth, Sadira and Macaire. We also get to visit the vampire coven in Venice again too 🙂 Plus, to my surprised delight, Tabor and (what is implied to be) a younger version of Ryan also show up too 🙂 Alas, no Danaus though – even though he would have, technically, been alive at the time the novel’s story takes place.

In terms of the story, it’s actually a proper story too. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. It includes character development, multiple locations, a plot twist and a (romantic) sub-plot too. Seriously, it’s great to see a full story that is so efficiently concise. It puts many other modern authors (and their bloated 400-600 page novels) to shame. Plus, the story is just as compelling as you would expect a full-length “Dark Days” novel to be too 🙂

My only minor criticisms of this novella are the relative lack of horror elements (there are a few, but not many), the spelling of “Doncaster” as “Duncaster” and the fact that the story contains relatively little suspense. After all, if you’ve read the “Dark Days” novels, you’ll already know who survives and who doesn’t. In a lot of ways, I’d have preferred to see a sequel that dealt with what happens to Mira and Danaus some time after the dramatic ending of “Burn The Night”. But, still, this is an extra “Dark Days” story and this is never a bad thing 🙂

In terms of the narration and writing, it is as good as you would expect. For the most part, Mira’s first-person narration still sounds pretty similar to the rest of the “Dark Days” series, although she’s a slightly more violent and emotional character in this novel (since she’s 100-200 years younger). The narration is very readable and even the bedroom-based scenes (which aren’t for the prudish) are well-written enough to ensure that there are no moments of unintentional comedy.

In terms of length, the novella itself is 94 pages long ( although the book is longer, because there’s a 21-page preview of another novel added to the end). This length is absolutely perfect, since it means that “Bound To Me” can be read in an hour or two in a similar fashion to watching a TV show episode. There’s no need to rush, you can just sit back and savour every page and not have to worry about how long it’ll take you to read the entire thing. Seriously, if publishers want to make reading popular again, then why are print novellas so rare these days? They’re literally the book equivalent of a TV show episode or something.

All in all, this novella is absolutely wonderful 🙂 If you’re a fan of the “Dark Days” series, then you’ll have a lot of fun with this book. Although the actual story is less than 100 pages long, it still reads a lot like a full novel too – which is amazing 🙂 Seriously, I wish more people would publish novellas. Plus, of course, this novella is something to take the edge off of that miserable “there’s no more “Dark Days” novels left!” feeling when you finish reading “Burn The Night”.

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

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Short Story: “Specimen” By C. A. Brown

Order! Order!‘ Dr. Farlingsworth tapped his fist loudly upon on the stout dissection table. Squinting against the dim lantern-light, he perceived that the rabble of medical students in the surrounding seats were still jostling, joshing and scuffling merrily.

What, oh what, would noble Asclepius think of this horde of roisterers I see before me?‘ He bellowed. This only served to draw a few hearty laughs from the depths of the rabble.

In an instant, the good doctor felt like an actor on a Shakespearean stage, surrounded by an audience of churls, drunkards and orange-sellers. An impression hammered further home by his memory of catching young Wilkinson sneaking in before the dissection to proclaim “Friends! Romans! Countrymen!” to his amused cohorts. At least, Farlingsworth noted with some relief, the impetuous fellow had refrained from using the cloth covering the specimen as an improvised toga.

Of course, the specimen! With a showman’s grace, Dr. Farlingsworth doddered over to the other side of the table and unveiled the specimen with a flourish. The noise continued. Alas, he surmised, these students were fresh enough to make merry in the halls of learning but seasoned enough not to fall silent at the sight of a body.

Above the clamourous rabble, a voice called out: ‘One of Mr. Burke’s, sir?‘ Another voice called out ‘I didn’t see that poor fellow at Tyburn today.‘ More laughter followed.

Taking a deep breath, the good doctor bellowed: ‘Gentlemen! What you see before you on this table is no ordinary man!

Another voice laughed: ‘Of course not, he’s croaked it!

Flashing a steely glare at the source of the voice, Dr. Farlingsworth continued: ‘Stevenson! Pipe down, will you! Where was I? Oh, yes! What you see before you today is no ordinary man. In fact, I would even hazard to guess that he is some hitherto unknown advancement of the human species.

For once, the only reply was blissful silence. Against the dim flickering of the lanterns, Farlingsworth noted with some satisfaction that thirty pairs of eyes stared forwards at him in rapt fascination.

Farlingsworth continued his lecture: ‘This unfortunate fellow was discovered in the nets of a fishing trawler three days ago and yet he appears to be perfectly preserved. Although the more superstitious amongst you may be keen to attribute this to a miracle, I posit that there is a rational scientific explanation for this phenomenon. An explanation, gentlemen, that I plan to uncover today.

The theatre remained as silent as a tomb. Allowing himself to stand an inch taller, Farlingsworth gently opened the specimen’s mouth and said: ‘Preliminary examinations carried out by my colleague Throckmorton noted that the body displayed notably enlarged incisors, perhaps comparable to those of the hyena skull we recently added to our collection.

Around him, the students jostled and leaned forwards, eager to catch a glimpse of this unusual feature. The stout oak bannisters surrounding the theatre creaked quietly. As the warm glow of the lantern played across the faces of his audience, Farlingsworth could not help but think of Joseph Wright’s scientific paintings or perhaps that clumsy copy of a Caravaggio that Throckmorton hung in his dining room.

In an instant, Farlingsworth’s reverie was interrupted by the sight of his students recoiling in horror. For a second, he stood there bewildered until he felt something grasp his neck. Then, two sharp pains like the bodkin needles used in Jenner’s famed vaccinations. He glanced down to find that the specimen had not only returned to life, but was at his throat like a hungry wolf. Yet, he felt no terror. Instead, a comfortably warm sensation, not unlike quaffing a bottle of good cognac, seemed to wash through his body.

When one of the panicked students finally saw fit to inform the local constable, an examination of the theatre turned up neither the doctor nor his specimen. After further investigations proved fruitless, the authorities procured the services of a well-respected amateur. Yet, even this famed consultant could deduce no cause or trace of what was said to have occurred on that frightful night.

Within no less than two weeks, the ghastly event had passed into university folklore. Despite the efforts of the faculty to suppress such macabre rumours, it was not uncommon to find copies of Varney The Vampire and other such penny dreadfuls surreptitiously placed amongst the hallowed tomes of the university library.

Yet, within several more weeks, the incident had been mostly forgotten. Ghoulish whispers had quickly been overtaken by the excitement of such things as the inter-varsity cricket championships and that well-renowned boat race. Yet, dear reader, even to this day the medical students never so much as grin or chortle when taking anatomy classes. If poor Farlingsworth was still amongst the land of the living, he would no doubt have permitted himself a smile at his newfound legacy.

Short Story: “Amusements” By C. A. Brown

Although I don’t know how many I’ll write or how often, I felt like getting back into writing short stories. So, here’s a comedy horror story I wrote earlier today.

With a thunderous death-rattle and twenty banshee screams, the rickety old rollercoaster car shot past me like a ghost in the night. I must have jumped because the next thing I heard was Brad’s laughter mingling with the tinny music from the big top.

Brushing a strand of dark hair from his kohl-lined eyes, he grinned at me: ‘You know as well as I do darling that you can’t visit somewhere like this without checking out the house of horrors. It’d be like Paris without the catacombs or Romania without the castle or a hot date without…

I get the idea.‘ I laughed. ‘But, I’ve heard things about this one.

Brad put a warm arm around my shoulder, his leather trenchcoat crackling slightly. Trying not to laugh, he said: ‘Well, of course they’re going to say stuff about it. I mean, what’s the fun of a house of horrors if you can’t boast about being brave enough to enter it?

I let out a sigh and stared at the tapestry of flashing lights in the distance ‘No, I’m like serious. You remember Jorge. He’s been scared of the dark for the past two nights because of this silly house of horrors. I mean, Jorge of all people. Scared of the dark.

Oh please, he’s probably got indigestion. Or a hangover or both.‘ Brad smiled. ‘Or, of course, he’s trying to scare you. Maybe I put him up to it?

Above the distant rattling, jangling and babbling, an owl screeched in the distance. Another rollercoaster car juddered past us. A huge smile spread across Brad’s face, followed shortly by a frown. Finally, he said: ‘Or, I didn’t. Truth be told, I haven’t seen him in a couple of evenings.‘ The smile returned to his face: ‘Maybe… he never left.

Like I didn’t see that one coming.‘ I laughed. ‘Seriously though, I saw him last night. He was… noticeably perturbed.

All because of a silly house of horrors?‘ Brad pulled back his sleeve and glanced at his watch before saying: ‘The next tour begins in ten minutes. Now you’ve made me even more curious.

Go ahead.‘ I laughed. ‘I’ll wait outside. But, don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

Coward.‘ He chuckled. ‘Well, it’s your loss.

Silently, we skirted the bright lights and baying crowds as we headed straight towards the house of horrors. As we drew closer to the unearthly grey building, a barker with a pointy beard stared at us and shouted: ‘Roll up! Roll up! A glimpse into perdition itself! A nightmare to shake even the stoutest of spirit! Dare YOU enter…

A giant smile crossed Brad’s face as he rushed towards the barker. I stood back and fumbled through my bag for a clove cigarette. For a second, both Brad and the barker seemed to share the same maniacal grin. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or roll my eyes. In almost perfect unison, they turned to me and said: ‘Last chance?

I laughed: ‘I’m fine. Have fun. I’ll see you in ten minutes or whatever.

The ten minutes seemed more like twenty. Two cloves and three unwanted pamphlets later, the doors to the house of horrors slid open gently and Brad staggered out. The barker was nowhere to be seen. As Brad lurched towards me, he stared at me with haunted eyes. I grinned and said: ‘Very funny.

No…‘ He mumbled. ‘I’ve never seen anything so horrible. To think that such things exist even in the worst nightmares of the worst souls…..

Look, you can tell me about it over dinner. I hear they’re doing a two for one. I’ve got a coupon.

At the blood bank, Brad barely even took a sip. Even when the waiter almost tripped over his cloak, not even a hint of a laugh escaped Brad’s throat.

Finally, he muttered: ‘There were people who were famous… because they were famous. There was a nightclub… except everyone wore bright clothes. The music! Oh god, the music! It still rings in my ears! Then there were TV shows that didn’t even have a script! And then there were…

Stop!‘ I found myself saying. My hands were trembling. ‘Don’t tell me any more! It’s too horrible!