Vampire Stories by Women: “Turkish Delight,” “Prince of Flowers”

Reviewer: Emera
Dates read: The very end of December 2011
Read from: Vampire Stories by Women, ed. by Stephen Jones (2001). (I’ll be putting together an index post for this collection once I’m done reviewing the stories I found the most interesting.)

Roberta Lannes says in the introduction to her short story, “Turkish Delight” (2001),that the most interesting element of the vampiric repertoire to her is the seduction. The vampiric “granddad” in this story seduces by shaping himself to fill a lack; his eventual victim is Andrew, a gentle-hearted boy who lives in claustrophobically close quarters with his aunt and controlling, abusive mother, and dreams of finding his absent father’s family. (Enter the vampire…) Lannes does an excellent job of drawing the web of tensions and hidden desires at work in Andrew’s household, with its additional layer of vampiric subtext in how Andrew’s mother uses him as fuel for her pettish rages. Unfortunately, the end of the story loses emotional focus, once a slew of more conventionally “genre” elements are introduced (luxurious mansion full of vampire victims, etc.), and the narration seems to drift out of contact with Andrew’s experience. (It’s hard to imagine a 10-year-old boy thinking that “everything the old man said was full of vagaries and obfuscation.”) Still, Lannes’ story is often moving in its examination of deception and manipulation.

Stupid admission: I often confuse Elizabeth Hand with Elizabeth Bear. Same with Gene Wolfe and Gary Wolfe. That said – Elizabeth HAND’s “Prince of Flowers” (1988) starts with some absolutely gorgeous evocations of the vasty, esoteric innards of Washington D.C.’s Natural History Museum:

“Her favorite was Paleontology, an annex where the air smelled damp and clean, as though beneath the marble floors tricked hidden water, undiscovered caves, mammoth bones to match those stored above…

The Anthropology Department was in the most remote corner of the museum; its proximity to the boiler room made it warmer than the Natural Sciences wing, the air redolent of spice woods and exotic unguents used to polish arrowheads and axe-shafts. The ceiling reared so high overhead that the rickety lamps swayed slightly in drafts that Helen longed to feel. The constant subtle motion of the lamps sent flickering waves of light across the floor. Raised arms of Balinese statues seemed to undulate, and points of light winked behind the empty eyeholes of feathered masks.”

The prose continues to be gorgeous, but “Prince of Flowers” (the eponymous resident vampire is a beautiful Balinese puppet that Helen steals from the museum) unfortunately runs along monster-movie lines, and so lacks thematic or emotional resonance, outside of the unease conjured by the increasingly sinisterly lush descriptions.

Still, considering that this was Hand’s first published story, I’m definitely going to make a point of looking for more of her work. I’ve also read a couple of her reviews for F&SF, and found them a pleasure to read – thoughtful and wide-ranging.

Go to:
Stephen Jones: bio and works reviewed
Vampire Stories by Women: “Rampling Gate,” “Miss Massingberd”

Vampire Stories by Women: “Rampling Gate,” “Miss Massingberd”

Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 12.25.2011
Read from: Vampire Stories by Women, ed. by Stephen Jones (2001)

Inevitable disclaimer: I was obsessed with the first three books of Ann Rice’s Vampire Chronicles (and her two historical-fiction novels) in high school; haven’t read her since then. Also, this summary/review is spoilery.

“The Master of Rampling Gate” (1984), Rice’s only vampire short story, reads like an adolescent vampire’s dreams of an adolescent girl’s dreams of him (Twilight inverted?) – it’s a sentimental Gothic confection spun mostly of lissome sensuality and wish-fulfillment. Rice’s prose flows creamily (I use that word because I can’t help but remember Anthony Blanche’s indictment of Charles’ jungle paintings in Brideshead Revisited: “It was charm again, my dear, simple, creamy English charm, playing tigers…”), but there’s troublingly little depth to it. Maybe she was taking a break from the unrelenting moral horror that the VC protagonists wrangle with?

Young, idly wealthy Julie and Richard arrive in the country estate of Rampling Gate, having been commanded by their late father to tear it down “stone by stone,” but instead find themselves seduced by its quiet luxury and meditative, timeless solitude. A few gasps and midnight encounters later, Julie learns that the true master of Rampling is a mopy, beautiful vampire who dates to the Middle Ages and likes reading her fiction. (It must be true love!)

There’s a horrifying flashback to the plague years to explain why Rampling Gate, and the vampire, must remain – they serve as monument to the plague-devastated village that once stood there – but the story reverts so quickly to the couple’s delighted honeymoon-planning that the plague episode ends up reading as an ornament to the tragedy of the eternally lonely vampire, rather than a reflection on human misery and the awfulness of history.

The whole thing is especially creepy because Rice keeps on insisting that the chief attribute of both Julie and the vampire is their innocence, even when he’s lovingly showing her visions of them feasting together upon ladies in red-wallpapered bordellos – because she has to become his vampire mistress, natch. Hooray for eternally prolonged adolescence!


Tina Rath’s “Miss Massingberd and the Vampire” (1986) is a crisply written, very Britishly humorous little story. As in the other story that I’ve read of Rath’s, “A Trick of the Dark” (review in this post), the vampire offers sensual escape from a buttoned-up life, here that of a schoolmistress whose evening encounter in a churchyard tweaks her life slightly out of the polite course of things. It’s a story that, like Miss Massingberd, seems to be smiling to itself.

Go to:
Stephen Jones: bio and works reviewed
Anne Rice: bio and works reviewed
Tina Rath: bio and works reviewed

White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemi (2009) E

Date read: 1.10.11
Book from: University library
Reviewer: Emera

Snow White meets haunted-house melodrama meets quasi-vampire story with a decided hint of “Carmilla,” by the author of The Icarus Girl? Count me in. White is for Witching is the story of a family, and a house, distorted by the loss of a mother and a hidden history of trauma, xenophobia, and insanity. Miranda Silver blames herself for her mother’s death, and struggles with pica, a disorder that compels her to eat chalk and plastic. (I thought it might well be a pun on the “consumptive” heroine, in addition to hinting at Miri’s eventual realization of even worse appetites, and reflecting the novel’s motifs of misdirected desire and destruction from the inside out.) Her twin brother Eliot and bottled-up father Luc are too paralyzed by their own obsessions and griefs to do more than watch Miri on her slow course to destruction. In short, every character is an emotional closed circuit, furiously retracing the same neuroses without outlet or resolution. This includes, of course, the possessive and apparently sentient house, which has born witness to several generations of tortured Silver women.

For the first half of the book, I read with mostly detached fascination. Everyone is so icily clever and dysfunctional that I couldn’t really care about them, and as in The Icarus Girl, Oyeyemi’s prose sometimes verges on mannered. Paragraphs drift into prose-poetic fragments, and overlapping phrases signal transitions between narrating characters; I found the latter a particularly heavy-handed stylistic device. Similarly, many of the haunted-house tableaux – Miri’s waking dreams of streets lined with “pale people,” for example – are presented with an arranged, glassy nightmarishness, an alienating hyper-aestheticization. What saved the book for me from feeling (if you’ll forgive the pun) too lifeless was Oyeyemi’s dense layering of Gothic and folkloric tropes.

Continue reading White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemi (2009) E

The Book of the Damned, by Tanith Lee (1988) E

Date read: 11.1.07; reread once or twice since
Book from: Library originally; now personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

(There is nothing about this cover that does not amuse and please me. Consider it an honorary Bad Book Cover Friday?)

Tanith Lee‘s The Secret Books of Paradys are among the most exquisitely aestheticized and unabashedly Gothic works I’ve ever read, which means of course that I’m obsessed with them. The series is set in a parallel-universe version of Paris, known variously as Paradys, Paradis, Par Dis, and Paradise. (Lee has also written a more recent series about a para-Venice, The Secret Books of Venus, though I’ve yet to read them.) Each of the four volumes comprises interweaving, thematically unified stories. The books stand alone well, though they’re seeded with references to a few recurring elements within the universe – locations, names, a certain poet – and the fourth volume has a climactic finality to it. Each of the books is further themed by color (see what I mean about aestheticized?), frequently embodied in significant pieces of jewelry and, in The Book of the Damned, stained-glass windows. (Always makes me think of “The Masque of the Red Death.”)

The Book of the Damned takes as its themes sexual transgression and ambiguities of sex, gender, and identity, considered in three novellas. The first, “Stained with Crimson,” follows an ill-fated poet, Andre St. Jean, on a journey of sexual obsession in 19th-century Paradys. St. Jean is given a ruby scarab ring by a dying man on the hills of the Temple Church; soon after, he is introduced to the ring’s owner, the ineffably unobtainable Antonina von Aaron. Cue a game of predator and prey in which role reversals are linked with a cycle of death, rebirth, and sex changes. Oh yes, and vampires. I mean, obviously. This is perhaps my favorite out of all the Paradys tales, both for its sentimental associations, as it launched my Tanith Lee obsession, and for its no-holds-barred Gothstravaganza, ladled out in the most sonorous, decadent, purple-saturated language imaginable. Further layers of allegorical imagery incorporate Greek mythology (a Pan symbol, a trip down a deathly river) and the elements, the latter perhaps complementing the book’s primary-color triad.

“Malice in Saffron,” though little less wrought and hectic, takes a much grimmer turn. As with many of Lee’s works, its events are incited by sexual violence and abuse of women. The protagonist, Jehanine, is assaulted by her stepfather and rejected by her beloved brother. After fleeing the countryside, she finds shelter within a nunnery in medieval Paradys, but by night transforms herself into capricious, murderous Jehan, who roams the backstreets of Paradys with a gang of thieves. Like many of Lee’s vengeful heroines, Jehanine nears the brink of being consumed by her own desire for destruction, but ultimately finds peace and redemption. Jehanine, I suspect, is a distant Paradysian extrapolation of Joan of Arc/Jeanne d’Arc; her story also heavily references Cathar beliefs.

Continue reading The Book of the Damned, by Tanith Lee (1988) E

Night Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko (1998) E

Date read: (incomplete) 10.17.10
Book from: Borrowed from Kakaner
Reviewer: Emera

Adapted from the back cover:

“Set in contemporary Moscow, where shapeshifters, vampires, and streets-sorcerers linger in the shadows, Night Watch is the first book in an epic saga chronicling the eternal war of the ‘Others,’ an ancient race of humans with supernatural powers who must swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. The agents of Light – the Night Watch – oversee nocturnal activity, while the agents of Dark keep watch over the day. For a thousand years both sides have maintained a precarious balance of power, but an ancient prophecy has decreed that a supreme Other will one day emerge, threatening to tip the scales. Now, that day has arrived. When a mid-level Night Watch agent named Anton stumbles upon a cursed young woman – an uninitiated Other with magnificent potential – both sides prepare for a battle that could lay waste to the entire city, possibly the world.”

I grabbed this off of Kakaner’s shelf at some point, having heard that the movie adaptations of the series were good, and being a bit of a sucker for urban-fantasy romps (as evidenced by my shameless obsession with the Dresden Files). I sampled two chapters before deciding to give the rest a miss. What I read seemed a bit silly and mostly predictable; I didn’t feel particularly intrigued by the characters or the world-building, especially given the obvious moral binary. Andrew Bromfield’s translation reads fluently, so I’m going to assume that any faults lie with the original text: namely, abuse of ellipses and exclamation points (“This was real power! With real perseverance!” “Damn!” “Faster!” “A female voice!”) and a general atmosphere of cheesy, humorless melodrama. Characters growl in anger, angst about unquenchable blood thirst, and so on.

Also, not the fault of the book itself, but still hilarious – a further excerpt from the back-cover summary: “With language that throbs like darkly humorous hard-rock lyrics about blood and power, freedom and responsibility…” – That is some quite specific throbbing.

Go to:
Sergei Lukyanenko: bio and works reviewed

“Coppola’s Dracula,” by Kim Newman (1997) E

Date read: 10.04.09
Read from: Infinity Plus
Reviewer: Emera

Will I ever tire of vampires? It seems unlikely, at this rate. Kim Newman‘s novella “Coppola’s Dracula” was my first foray into his post-vampire-epidemic alternate history. Here he reenvisions Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Dracula-style.

Protagonist Kate Reed is an Irish vampire – a contemporary of Bram Stoker, in fact – who’s been brought on the set of Coppola’s bloated, luckless production as a consultant, and bears witness to disaster after near-disaster as filming staggers onward. Interspersed with her coolly amused observations are excerpts of key scenes from the script, all paralleling Apocalypse Now (and Dracula, of course) and sharply rendered in Newman’s clipped, punchy, darkly humorous style.

I would probably have appreciated the central conceit more had I been more of a film buff, but I still found the parallels clever and entertaining, and Newman is deeply meticulous in imagining his alternate universe. However, the novella left me rather cold beyond that – though Kate is well-developed as a character, she’s so dispassionate that the story lacks emotional effect, other than conveying a lingeringly tragic kind of Cold-War disaffection. Well, that’s probably deliberate, so count that as another stylistic success for the story.

Go to:
Kim Newman

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova (2005) E

Date read: 12.30.07
Read from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

In The Historian, the titular scholar reminisces about the quest that she, her father, and her father’s mentor pursued several decades ago. All three became determined to discover the origins, deeds, and whereabouts of the true Dracula, the now-immortal Romanian warlord Vlad Tepes.

It should probably be evident to anyone following this blog for a certain length of time that I have a huge vampire problem, which very often leads me to read things that, well, aren’t really worth the time. This includes The Historian. I discovered only after the fact of attempting to read it that it has been sarcastically and very appropriately dubbed “The Dracula Code.” (Although to Kostova’s credit [?], she began writing it 10 years before Dan Brown began work on his ticket to fame.) The formula is indeed the same: flimsy historical detective work pursued among various scenic European locations, wedded to page after page of cheap cliffhangers achieved by conveniently dicing the narrative into chunks digestible enough for the attention-span-impaired.

Likewise, the “startling” or “creative” revelations she makes about the Dracula myth are only startling or creative if you don’t know all of them already, which I inevitably did. However, I do have to assume that people who pursue more useful hobbies than endlessly reading vampire mythology might still find the book an amusingly presented tour through various bits of folklore and theory. Overall, though, Kostova’s writing is pretty limp and insubstantial, if not quite on the level of a Dan Brown novel. I ended up ploughing through a total of 70ish pages out of a sense of obligation (having unfortunately purchased the novel), glanced at the ~600 left, and said “screw it.” Add Kostova to the list of presumably smart people (she’s a Yale graduate) who can’t actually write novels.

Go to:
Elizabeth Kostova

The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 16, ed. Stephen Jones (2005) E

Date read: 8.3.09
Read from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

I picked this and #15 up at a used book sale, partly out of a fit of pique that I couldn’t find anything else to my taste – even though I didn’t know anything about the actual quality of the anthology series. Luckily, every story in this was well written and solidly above average, which is more than can be said for most of the anthologies I’ve read in my life.

To begin with the best, my absolute favorites, in no particular order:

  • Kelly Link’s feverish, extremely unnerving “Stone Animals” (come on, even the title is creepy). Young couple with poor communication and two small children, including a sleepwalking daughter, moves into a new house where all is not quite well – classic set-up for horror, and Link plays it gleefully. I imagined her whooping maniacally while writing the story, truth be told.
  • Lisa Tuttle’s “My Death,” the story of a recently widowed writer who travels in search of new inspiration, and becomes strangely entangled in the legacy of an early 20th-century painter and his muse. This builds slowly, but goes places that are increasingly strange and tap into very primitive, raw forces. The ending was completely unpredictable and bewildering in the best way possible. Masterfully executed, all in all.
  • Michael Marshall Smith’s supremely atmospheric and ever-so-delicately frightening “This Is Now.” Describing it would ruin it, so I won’t. This gave me the most chills-down-the-spine read, yet the fear is so deliciously subtle and evanescent.

Continue reading The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 16, ed. Stephen Jones (2005) E

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman (2008) K

Date read: 11.8.08

Book from: Personal Collection

Reviewer: Kakaner


Nobody Owens (Bod) lives in a graveyard, has ghosts for friends and family, and a mysterious neither-living-nor-dead guardian. As he grows up, he has to learn both the ways and secrets of the large graveyard as well as deal with the outside world. This foreign world is extremely dangerous place for Bod because the assassin of his family is still on the prowl. Throughout the journey of his childhood Bod basically learns about growing up– girls, beings which are neither living nor, and slowly, how to function in the outside world.


Way to go Neil Gaiman! All those months of meticulously following the progress of The Graveyard Book on his blog certainly paid off– the day it was released, I headed over to my local bookstore, plucked one brand spanking new copy off the display, and settled into an armchair to read for the next couple hours. I read it all in one sitting, and in about a week, after procuring enough monetary funds, I immediately bought the book.

I have to say The Graveyard Book was spot on in so many respects– character development, pacing, storytelling… to name a few. Sure Bod lives in a graveyard, but his childhood frustrations and adventures  are so relatable. He has his own quarrels with his guardians, fighting against the constraints of the graveyard much like children do their own homes. The imagery is simply splendid, especially Bod’s adventures beneath the graveyard and all the different fantastical creatures. And, who doesn’t like ghosts, vampires, and other such creatures? I definitely felt transported into another world through that imaginary magic portal every child wants to travel through. Above all, I was definitely caught up in the snowball effect of the novel– you’re reading and the suspense and developments keep piling on until suddenly, you realize you haven’t been breathing for several pages. That is the feeling I’d been longing to experience again, that same thrill of reading Patricia Wrede or Brian Jacques or J.K. Rowling as a child with breathy light-headedness.

The Graveyard Book has replaced Coraline as my favorite Gaiman YA fiction. It is fantastical, yet down to earth at the same time, and strikes a wonderful balance between barreling trains of action and meandering scenes chock full of character development. Quite honestly, one of my recurring gripes with Gaiman’s works is they typically feel a bit cold, despite being terrifically written and crafted. I usually enjoy every minute of a Gaiman novel or comic, but come away feeling a bit dissatisfied, as if it didn’t successfully speak to me on a deeper level. The Graveyard Book, however, was warm and honest, and definitely a great read for any child or even adult.

Go to:

Neil Gaiman

Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004) E

Date Read: 6.13.09

Book From: Personal collection

Reviewer: Emera

Oskar is an alienated twelve-year-old living in a decaying Swedish suburb in the 1980’s. He is brutally bullied at school, and fantasizes often about striking back at his tormentors, keeping a scrapbook of newspaper articles about murders as his inspiration. Two new neighbors move into Oskar’s apartment complex: one an older man, and one, apparently his daughter, an androgynous girl named Eli who smells terrible, walks barefoot in the snow, and only comes out at night, but is nonetheless befriended by Oskar.

If you know anything about vampires, you can imagine where this is going. Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in, translated by Ebba Segerberg) was a bestseller in Sweden when it was published in 2004, and gained further international attention when the 2008 Swedish-language film adaptation (IMDB) won a number of awards and became a surprise hit. I’m not sure now if I heard about the movie or the book first, but unusually for me, I ended up watching the movie first, and read the book shortly after. I enjoyed both immensely, but for slightly different reasons in each case. Given that, I thought I’d do a combined film and book review. Please note that mild spoilers follow.

Continue reading Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004) E