Completed 11/19/2021, Reviewed 11/19/2021
I liked this book but didn’t love it. It’s a vampire novel set in an alternate early 1800s where the protagonist crosses paths with Lord Byron, Mary and Percy Shelley, and John Keats as he tries to destroy vampires. The premise is good and the prose is gorgeous, but the pacing is slow. For a 400+ page book with tiny print, the pacing needed to be tighter. There were many times when I wanted to put the book down because nothing was happening. Even the ending is slow. But it’s basically a very good story. It won the Mythopoeic Award in 1990.
Michael Crawford gets married and his wife is brutally murdered in the bed next to him on his wedding night. During the night, while he thought he was having sex with his wife, he was actually with a vampire. He meets Keats who identifies him as someone who draws vampires to themselves. Then he meets Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, and together they try to relieve themselves of their vampires. It’s difficult for the poets however, because their literary genius comes from the vampires, like muses. But they all trudge forward in their quest, all to different ends. Their quest is complicated however by Jennifer, Crawford’s wife’s twin sister. She has multiple personality disorder and is on her own quest to kill Crawford.
The characterization is very good. Particularly, I liked the poets. I thought their characters were very well done. The details of their lives and deaths are seamlessly woven into the story. I thought Powers did a great job of bringing them to life and giving them personalities. Even though Crawford is the main character, I had more empathy for the poets than I did for Crawford. I thought he was kind of milquetoast. His passion in conquering the vampires comes and goes, perhaps reflecting the unevenness of the pacing.
The character I liked the best was Jennifer. When she can’t deal with what’s going on around her, she becomes an automaton, moving mechanically. Other times, she thinks she’s her dead sister Julia. When she’s herself, she recites her times tables to avoid slipping into one of the other personalities. Powers gave her a lot of depth and description, and she’s the only non-genteel woman in the story, aside from the succubi.
The worldbuilding is quite phenomenal. This is not your romantic vampire tale that has been so popular for so long. Called the nephilim, they are seductive, evil, an insinuated into all aspects of life. They are believed to be the giants who walked the earth in biblical times. Then there are the neffies, the people who attract the vampires. Once attached to a neffie, they slowly kill all the people around them until the vampires have them for themselves. When a neffie dies, they become a vampire as well. Vampires are prolific in this world, and their presence seems to derive from an Austrian ruler living in Italy during its occupation.
I give this book three stars out of five. It’s slow and dense, but interesting and beautifully written. Apparently, most of Power’s books are quite dense. I’ll find out when I read his World Fantasy Award winner, probably next year. I think people who like vampire novels will find this different, intriguing, and worth the read. While I like vampire novels myself, I much prefer stories that move a little more than this one did.