vampires

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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.

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Sergei Lukyanenko: bio and works reviewed

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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.

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Kim Newman

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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.

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Elizabeth Kostova

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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.

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Date read: 11.8.08

Book from: Personal Collection

Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

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.

Review

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.

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Neil Gaiman

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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.

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Date Read: 6.19.09
Book From: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

Vampire Deluxe!, by Lawrence Gullo and David Ryder Prangley,  is a profoundly silly vampire comic featuring two medieval lads who masquerade as princes of the night in order to sex (and rob) the ladies. Pretty good plan, huh?

The concept is good enough to deserve a longer treatment, at least in my opinion, but here it sets up a pleasurably nonsensical plot involving midnight mandrake-digging expeditions, voluptuous ladies in white gowns, and dialogue like “Take that, harlot.”

Gullo’s characters are distinctively gaunt and elegant, and while his stylized anatomy can make for stiff posing, his characters’ hilarious facial expressions often sell the punchlines of the sardonic jokes – something I also find to be the case with My Life in Blue, his first webcomic. (Vampire Deluxe! also happens to be set in Gullo’s mythical Eastern European homeland, Baritaria, the subject of his second webcomic, Baritarian Boy.)

Eeeeeeeeehhhhhh

All in all, I had me some good times with Vampire Deluxe! – it’s a quick and marvellously fun read for any fan of Gothic goofiness. (If you like Young Frankenstein, try…)

Go to:
Lawrence Gullo: bio and author page
My Life in Blue
Baritarian Boy

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Date Read: 6.1.09

Book From: Personal collection (purchased via BetterWorld Books)

Reviewer: Emera

100 Vicious Little Vampire Stories (ed. Robert Weinberg, Stefan Dziemianowicz, & Martin Greenberg) and I have a history that, like its title, is long and sordid. I first found a battered paperback copy on my fifth-grade teacher’s bookshelf and brought it home with eager trepidation. After reading two or three stories, I got so scared that I brought it back to school and put it back on the shelf. Then, in my typical fashion, I furtively picked it up back off the shelf about a month later and, over the course of the next three or so months, methodically scared myself to death on a regular basis. A++ judgment abilities, as always.

Several of the stories stuck in my head very firmly, and in high school I actually fantasized several times about sneaking back into my middle school expressly to steal my teacher’s copy for keeps. (Yeah, I need better hobbies. But what was the probability of anyone but me reading a book like that anyway?) So egged on by niggling remembrances of moonlit magnolias and glasses full of blood imbibed at spas, I finally ordered a copy of my own (no dust jacket, sigh) from BetterWorld Books this past winter, although I knew that the majority of the book was probably dreck. Read the rest of this entry »

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