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Posts Tagged ‘vampires’

bookoflifeTwo years. That’s how long eager readers like myself have had to wait for Deborah Harkness’ The Book of Life (Viking Penguin, digital galley), the third volume in her All Souls trilogy, a heady mix of history, fantasy, science and romance. Happily, the saga of Diana Bishop, an American scholar with witch DNA, and Matthew Clairmont, Oxford geneticist and centuries-old vampire, picks right up where Shadow of Night ended. The star-crossed couple, now married, have returned to the present after action-packed adventures in Elizabethean England, France and Prague. Alas, the ancient alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, the so-called Book of Life that may explain the origins of the supernatural world and its witches, vampires and daemons, is still missing. Worse, the present-day Clairmont clan is appalled by Matthew’s marriage to a witch and the even-more astounding news that Diana is expecting twins. Impossible! The ruling Congregation has rules about the cross-mating of species!

The first part of the book is weighted by family dysfunction and the reintroduction of numerous characters from previous books. But then Harkness immerses us once again in her colorfully detailed paranormal world, which is threatened by dark historical forces and present-day politics. Diana must grow into her magical powers as a witch and Matthew must harness his inherited blood rage to make the future safe for all their supernatural kin and kind — vampire, witch, daemon and human.

thequickVampires have been almost done to death in recent paranormal fiction, while zombies, aliens and angels are coming on strong. But Lauren Owen resurrects the shivery terror of Dracula and Victorian vampires in her first novel, The Quick (Random House, digital galley), where revenants are eventually revealed both as members of a mysterious London gentlemen’s club and a shadowy rag-and-bone underclass. But before brother and sister James and Charlotte Norbury are engulfed by this dark Gothic world, Owen describes their solitary upbringing in a country manor house, after which James pursues his literary studies at Oxford before heading for London. He shares lodgings with his aristocratic friend Christopher, tries writing a play and falls in love. The year is 1892, and Oscar Wilde is much admired. But on a late-night walk to Wilde’s house, James vanishes, and Charlotte eventually makes her way to London in search of her brother. What is weird becomes thrillingly weirder.

Owen keeps interest high by discarding the linear in favor of overlapping, shifting narratives. Readers become privy to the grisly goings-on of The Aegolius Club, the valiant efforts of two vampire hunters, the plight of an American businessman, the research of  “Doctor Knife,” and the wily ways of a beggar girl. There will be blood. Oh, yes.

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In last summer’s best-seller, A Discovery of Witches, author and historian Deborah Harkness introduced readers to Diana Bishop, an American scholar with witch DNA, and Matthew Clairmont, an Oxford geneticist and centuries-old vampire. The two came together in the search for an ancient alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, that may explain the origins of the supernatural world and its witches, vampires and daemons. After pages and pages, Diana and Matthew were left calling on her untapped powers as a timespinner to go back to Elizabethean England.

I liked the first book for the most part, with its often heady mix of history, science, romance and fantasy. But  I soon tired of supernatural yoga classes and squabbles, and I resented the cliffhanger ending, which tempered my enthusiasm for a sequel that would also be the middle book of the All Souls trilogy. Really, another 600 pages and then wait for the third book a year from now?

Yes, yes, whatever. Shadow of Night (Viking Penguin, digital galley via NetGalley) may be the fastest 600 pages I’ve read since Harry Potter. Harkness’ dynamic duo interact with historical figures, a number of whom have their own supernatural secrets (Christopher Marlowe is a jealous daemon), and journey to London, France and Prague in search of a tutor for Diana and the lost manuscript. They are threatened by witch-hunters, meet up with Matthew’s powerful father, and make true friends and more enemies while trying not to trip up the past and thus change the present. Oh, they also get married, even though witches and vampires aren’t supposed to. As for what the future holds, we’ll just have to wait.

Happily, since paranormal is the new normal, there are other books of mystery and magic to enjoy. Carsten Stroud’s Niceville (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley via NetGalley) is all over the place and over the top with its energetic story of a small Southern town beset by trigger-happy thieves, mysterious random disappearances, a bloodsoaked past and Something Evil from beyond the grave. Detective Nick Kavanaugh isn’t sure what’s going on, even though his wife Kate is from one of Niceville’s founding families, but he dutifully charges forth into the murk and mayhem. I followed and tried not to overthink, or even think.

Sadie Jones’ The Uninvited Guests (HarperCollins, e-book borrowed from library) is altogther different, a wicked delight and/or delightfully wicked. The Edwardian country-house setting and class-conscious characters reminded me a bit of Dodie Smith, P.G. Wodehouse and Muriel Spark, but Jones’ pen is more poisonous. Emerald Torrington’s 20th birthday dinner party is disrupted by news of a train derailment and the arrival of a group of survivors. All are from the third-class carriage with the exception of one peculiar gentleman, who quickly insinuates himself with the family and their few invited guests, claiming old acquaintanceship with Emerald’s mother. She is appalled by his presence but also curiously afraid, and the mystery deepens as he orchestrates a parlor game that sets the players at odds with one another and can only end in tears. The story won’t be everyone’s cup of tea — too strange and bitter — but the shenanigans of Emerald’s young sister Smudge provide needed levity, and really, all’s well that ends well.  At least for some people.

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Last summer, Justin Cronin’s The Passage had me warily looking up at trees lest one of his soul-sucking “virals” be lurking in the limbs all ready to rend me limb-to-limb. This summer, thanks to Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf, no more looking up at full moons while walking the dog.

Granted, my chances of being attacked by a werewolf are about nil, considering that at the beginning of Duncan’s wild tale, Jake Marlowe gets news that he’s the last of his kind. Poor Jake. He’s a world-weary 200-plus-years, but it doesn’t look like he’ll live to be 400 (normal werewolf lifespan). In fact, he’s probably not going to make it past the next full moon because the highly organized anti-occult hunters close on his trail are just waiting until his next transformation. It wouldn’t be sporting to kill the man while he’s not a monster.

Jake only goes to ground in Wales, where he was turned in 1842, to finish up his memoirs, full of lust, gore and philosophical musings. But then the chase is on because someone wants Jake alive — a beautiful woman fronting for the vampires who think werewolves may hold the secret to letting them walk in the sunshine.

Yes, there are vampires but not True Blood ones. No sex for these foul-smelling, supercilious creatures, unlike the horny lycanthropes permanently on the prowl.  Jake prefers expensive escorts so he can remain emotionally detached, but that’s before he spots an American woman on a train. Life might be worth living after all.

The Last Werewolf  is often darkly funny (“Reader, I ate him”), full of knowing literary and pop culture references. The thriller is also beautifully written as Jake describes the life lupine.  “The thought, ‘wilderness,’ stirred the ghost animal, ran cold fingers through the pelt that wasn’t there; mountains like black glass and slivers of snow and the blood-hot howl on ice-flavoured air. . .”

However, The Last Werewolf is not for the faint of heart, the weak of stomach, or anyone put off by explicit sex and graphic violence. Yes, it’s been optioned for a movie. And yes, wouldn’t you know it, Duncan leaves us hungry for a sequel. Meanwhile, no moonlight walks for me. Jake Marlowe may be a soulful anti-hero, but he really is a wolf in wolf’s clothing, nature red in tooth and claw.

Open Book: I read the digital galley of Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf (Knopf) through NetGalley. To quote Duncan, a howl of appreciation to all involved.

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The new normal is the paranormal in much of today’s fiction, both literary and commercial. Here a ghost, there a zombie, everywhere a vampire or a werewolf. But several recent novels enchant with the magic of storytelling even as they trip the light fantastic.

Alice Hoffman, of course, is one of the leading practitioners of American magical realism, known as much for her luminous writing as her tales tinged with whimsy. My favorites include Seventh Heaven, Practical Magic,  The River King and Blackbird House. The latter is comprised of  stories linked by a Cape Cod house built during Colonial times by a fisherman who drowned at sea. A blackbird with wings of white reappears to succeeding generations as they experience fable-like encounters and transformations.

Hoffman’s most recent book, The Red Garden (Crown), is similar in form and style as its stories tell the history of  the small Massachustts town of Blackwell. All stem from town founder Hallie Brady’s determination to keep herself and her fellow settlers from starvation by forging a kinship with the wilderness, especially its black bears. A river full of eels, a mysterious garden, tomatoes that grant wishes, a woman with hair so long she can step on it. Hoffman’s lyrical fables are full of fate and magic and metaphor. And how wonderful that  Johnny Appleseed himself visits Blackwell once upon a time.

“Wonderful” is a good word, too, to describe Jo Walton’s new novel, Among Others (Tor). It’s a coming-of-age, sense-of-wonder tale told through the journal entries of Welsh teen Mori, a stranger in the strange land of a British boarding school. She and her twin sister used to escape from their witch of a mother by playing in the magical outdoors and talking to the fairies. But now Mori, still limping from a terrible accident, keeps to herself, seeking refuge in science fiction and fantasy books. 

“There are some awful things in the world, it’s true, but there are also some great books. When I grow up I would like to write something that someone could read sitting on a bench on a day that isn’t all that warm and they could sit reading it and totally forget where they were or what time it was so that they were more inside the book than inside their own head. I’d like to write like Delany or Heinlein or Le Guin.”

Mori’s world expands, thanks to to inter-library loan, a SF reading group, and the rebellious drop-out Win, “rarer than a unicorn, a beautiful boy in a red-checked shirt who read and thought and talked about books.” But before she can begin the next chapter of her life, Mori must reckon with the spells of the past. 

Among Others reminded me of how many hours I spent as a teen lost in the other worlds of Delany, Heinlein and Le Guin. My to re-read list gets ever longer. I’ve also added Sheri Holman’s The Dress Lodger, although her new novel, Witches on the Road Tonight (Grove/Atlantic) is altogether different, mixing Appalachian mountain myth with the poignant story of a conflicted man’s life. It begins: “Of all the props I saved, only the coffin remains.”

Eddie Alley was once a TV weatherman who gained small-town fame as Captain Casket, host of a late-night horror show. His love of monster movies dates back to his Depression-era boyhood in rural Virginia, where a WPA writer named Tucker Hayes shows Eddie a flickering Frankenstein with a hand-held projector. Eddie is as captivated by this visitor as Tucker is taken with Eddie’s mother Cora, who gathers ginseng (“sang”) and has a reputation as a witch.

Holman shuttles between present-day New York, where aging Eddie leaves a phone message about sang to his TV anchor daughter Wallis; to Panther Gap, where Tucker, a reluctant World War II draftee, stays longer than planned; to the late 1970s, when Wallis is 12 and her father brings home the orphaned Jasper. Holman also artfully shifts perspectives as mystery and magic meet.  The overall arc is a bit uneven because the events at Panther Gap overshadow Wallis’ suburban childhood.

Deborah Harkness’ debut, A Discovery of Witches, is pop paranormal, crowded with witches, vampires and daemons living among us poor unaware humans. Impossibly smart and attractive, Diana Bishop comes from a long line of famous witches, but she prefers to do her historical research without magic. But then she opens a medieval manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library and finds the palimpsest thrumming with magic. Suddenly, many of the undead are on the trail of the book and its secrets, including the impossibly handsome and brilliant vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont. 

Once you buy into the premise, the tale proves to be a well-written escapist romp with just enough romance and real history to make its 500-plus pages mostly worth reading. (I admit to skimming through the yoga sessions). Be forewarned: The ending isn’t really the end. This is the first book in the All Souls trilogy.

Open Book: I bought hardcover copies of The Red Garden and A Discovery of Witches and e-book versions of Among Others and Witches on the Road tonight. This is the thing with e-book pricing; sometimes the dead-tree format costs less or pretty much the same with discounts. As many books as I buy, I’d still rather save money than space.

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Kresley Cole is another Central Floridian who writes vampires. Also werewolves, demons, witches, Valkyries and other “Lore” creatures. The paperbacks in her paranormal romance series, “Immortals After Dark,” are regulars on the best-seller lists — the recently published Demon from the Dark debuted at No. 5 on the New York Times‘ list. An earlier entry, Kiss of a Demon King, won a coveted RITA award from the Romance Writers of America. Her fans love, love, love her.

It’s easy to see why. Her entertaining tales are wicked hot and dead funny. Near the beginning of  Demon from the Dark, a centaur sneers “Dead Wicca walking” as witch Carrow Graie is led down a corridor of cells at the Immortal Internment Compound. She promptly tells “Mr. Ed” where he can get off.  As it turns out, she’s not offed by the mortals who abducted her because her destiny is entwined with that of fiercely handsome Malkom Slaine. A demon warrior bitten by a vampire viceroy, he’s now a dreaded “venom.” He’s captivated by capricious, green-eyed Carrow and wants her as his mate. Little does he know the mercenary witch has been blackmailed into luring him out of his lair in hellish Oblivion.

The two don’t speak the same language, and Malkom’s courtship skills are that of a Neanderthal. Carrow’s attracted by his sculpted torso, although his lank hair and scruffy beard are a “disasterpiece.” Both have sorrows in their past, powers they don’t completely understand. Are they star-crossed, or will love (and lust) win the day?  What do you think?

Carrow often thinks, “What would Ripley do?,” as in heroic Ellen Ripley of Aliens fame. My guess is that in her down time, Ripley reads Kresley Cole.

Open Book: I about half of Cole’s 15 books. I downloaded the e-book version of Demon from the Dark (Simon & Schuster) the day it was published.

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Coming soon to this space my take on Justin Cronin’s The Passage, but we are having a helluva thunderstorm and I’m logging off for now….

If the lights go out, it will be so appropriate.

Ok, it’s two hours later, I’m back, and so’s the electricity. Made me think of the residents of First Colony in Cronin’s post-apocalyptic world, tending to their turbines but knowing they’re running on empty and it’s only a matter of time before the lights go out. And when the darkness descends, so will the smokes, the virals, the drinks, the flyers, the jumps, the sticks. Whatever you want to call them. Not vampires, though, as Auntie writes in her diary, remembering the Time Before, long ago when she was Ida Jaxson in Philadelphia, and her daddy “told me no, vampires were something in a made-up story, nice-looking men in suits and capes with good manners, and this here’s real, Ida.”

So real that Cronin spends the first quarter of his 800-page novel detailing how a secret military medical experiment on a dozen death-row inmates gets out of hand, leading to the end of civilization as we know it.  “It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.”  (In the new one, the Gulf of Mexico is one massive oil slick. Like that could ever happen).

At the center of both worlds is a little girl named Amy, aka “the  Girl from Nowhere — the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years.”

The Passage covers only about a century, jumping from Year Zero of the virals (who are kind of like vampires, kind of like zombies, kind of like humans) to a hundred years or so later, when the world has been rapidly depopulated by the bloodthirsty, soul-sucking creatures of the night. Most people die, split asunder stem to stern on the spot. Others survive the infection only to succumb years later to bad dreams that get worse on waking.

The Passage has been lauded as an “unconventional vampire story.” Actually, it’s the most conventional of tales, drawing on any number of familiar genres and tropes from science fiction, westerns, horror, adventure, fantasy and world-building. It’s Stephen King’s The Stand meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road  meets Mad Max and I Am Legend and The X-Files. It mixes Michael Crichton with Margaret Atwood. It’s mostly harrowing and thrilling, but it’s also digressive, even plodding as Cronin heaps on the many characters’ back stories. But Cronin can really write, and every time I tried to put the book down, the darn thing kept calling me back to its brave weird world. (Cronin quotes Shakespeare and Katherine Anne Porter, among others, at the begining of each of the 11 sections.) I had to find out what was going on with the good FBI agent and the enigmatic nun, and Peter and Michael and Sarah and Lish and Theo and Maus, and Amy, especially, always Amy.

The Passage doesn’t so much end as stop for a pause in the action, which is kind of a let-down cliff-hanger. Two more volumes are in the works. Also a movie. Anyway,  it’s going to take me awhile to catch my breath and stop looking up at trees at night and hoping that fluttering whoosh is the neighborhood owl. Meanwhile, please keep the lights on.

Open Book: I purchased the digital version of  Justin Cronin’s The Passage and read it on Nanook, which is what I call my nook. I had to recharge the battery. There’s irony for you.

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I want it on the record that I was into vampires long before Buffy and Sookie and Bella. Twilight, shmilight. Remember Barnabas Collins and Dark Shadows? How about Bunnicula? And the original Dracula? Anne Rice and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro? I should have known that vampires were becoming way too trendy when my original copy of J. Gordon Melton’s The Vampire Book: Encyclopedia of the Undead (Visible Ink Press) vanished from my desk at work shortly after I interviewed Melton and Charlaine Harris (yes, THE Charlaine Harris) for a story on the enduring appeal of the vampire. That was back in 1998, and I had already been a fang fan for years.

So I didn’t need me any True Blood before I discovered Harris and her telepathic waitress, Sookie Stackhouse, of the Louisiana outpost of Bon Temps. Now I’m just one of the millions following her adventures on the HBO series, which is only on book three. Dead in the Family, which came out last week and immediately hit No. 1 on the bestseller lists, is the 10th novel.

Not as action-packed as its predecessor, Dead and Gone, it deals with the fall-out from the War of the Fae. Sookie’s an emotional wreck, trying to pick up the pieces of her paranormal family. Vampire politics strain her relationship with Eric Northman, who is surprised by some undead visitors from his past. There’s an extra corpse buried on Sookie’s property, and the werepack picks up the scent of evil rogue Faerys. The shifters are also still  dealing with the consequences of “coming out” to the rest of the world: “Gee, I’m not sure I want a werewolf as a mother-in-law.”  Harris ties up a couple of plotlines, introduces some more. It’s good fun for veterans not so besotted by True Blood to appreciate the difference between the books and the series.

Becca Wilcott, the author of the June paperback, Truly, Madly, Deadly: The Unofficial True Blood Companion, bows deeply to both Harris and TV producer Alan Ball. She knows her vampires, too. Her unabashedly chatty, geeky guide to the HBO hit begins with a comprehensive history of vampires in literature and film. After that, a big gulp of True Blood for those who can’t get enough off Internet sites and message boards. 

Screenwriters should have no problem staying true to Christopher Farnsworth’s Blood Oath: The President’s Vampire, the first entry in a new series featuring pale predator Nathaniel Cade, who has been serving presidents since forced into swearing allegiance to Andrew Johnson in a voodoo ceremony featuring the bullet that shot Lincoln. It sounds ludicrous, but Farnsworth — a screenwriter — makes it cleverly credible. Young presidential aide Zach Barrows is Cade’s new handler (“Forget the War on Terror, Zach. This is the War on Horror. And you’ve just been drafted.”) And just like that, he and Cade go up against an evil scientist (the inspiration for Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein) and his fiendish plans for soldiers’ body parts.

Farnsworth writes cinematically, frantically cutting from one short scene to the next as he goes over the top again and again. I could have done with a little more humor beyond Zach’s wisecracks. The president’s vampire is so, so, uh, cold. Hollywood doesn’t mind. Blood Oath already has been optioned for the movies. The CGI folks will have a blast.

Open Book: I bought my copy of Charlaine Harris’ Dead in the Family (Ace). In fact, I pre-ordered it. I’ve known Harris for years and am thrilled by her success. I downloaded the galley of  Becca Wilcott’s Truly, Madly, Deadly (Ecw Press) from NetGalley so I haven’t seen the illustrations. Putnam sent me an advance reading copy of Christopher Farnsworth’s Blood Oath as part of a web giveaway on Shelf Awareness.

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