I know I skipped the Wednesday post, but sometimes it comes down to getting some sleep after a nasty bout of insomnia, or sticking to my blogging schedule. This time I chose sleep. I'll double up on the links next week to make up for it.
I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends, posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.) So far, I've reviewed Poppy Z. Brite's Drawing Blood, Robert McCammon's The Wolf's Hour, Laird Barron's The Imago Sequence, Neil Gaiman's Coraline, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and Kathe Koja's The Cipher. This week I'm reviewing Those Who Hunt the Night, by Barbara Hambly.
I liked this one. As I started reading it, it felt old fashioned. It was set in England in the time of Queen Victoria, for whom the title character, James Asher, has been a spy. He is simply a professor at a respectable university now, but it seems like the calm life wasn't made for him. He arrives home to find his servants and wife in an unconscious state, a Spanish vampire awaiting him in his office. Of course, he has no knowledge of vampires, not realizing they exist, but Simon Ysidro convinces him, and asks him (in a manner of speaking) to help him with a problem. Someone is killing vampires during the day, rendering them unable to defend themselves. Knowing Asher has no vested interest in keeping vampires alive, Ysidro makes it clear that Asher's wife stands to suffer at his hands if no assistance is provided.
One of the things I liked was that Ysidro wasn't gorgeous. He wasn't romantic. He didn't sparkle. He is pale and quiet, mysterious. And he is deadly, not afraid to feed on anyone at any time, no matter what Asher thinks of it. He is not burdened with much of a conscience. This is simply what he is. He is no monstrous nosferatu, true, but he is cold and calculating, willing to manipulate when he needs to. He's also a gentleman.
Asher, even as he deals with danger from various sides, convinced Ysidro will likely end him as soon as the murderer is caught, is fascinated with what makes vampires tick. He notes behaviors and mannerisms, questions what he sees. He's intelligent and resourceful. Never foolhardy.
His wife, Lydia, is a stunner, a woman of means who married below her station (in her father's eyes). The couple is intellectually matched, with her a physician in a time where that's not a popular or respected choice. She's curious and stoic. And they're quite in love.
In the course of his search, Asher comes into contact with several other vampires. They're not happy Ysidro has exposed their secret to a human. Just as with Ysidro, these vampires aren't attractive; they look like average people. There's a frumpy vampire couple, still the middle aged couple they were when turned. Vampires can compel, and Asher is convinced that vampires fog thinking to make it look like they've suddenly appeared elsewhere. He theorizes that vampirism is a virus.
The atmosphere was perfect. It was reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes. No matter what adventure he was on, Asher kept his educated detachment, analyzing the world around him. Yet he wasn't pompous, something I have a hard time liking in a character. I would have enjoyed more time with Lydia. Really, all of the characters were interesting in their own way.
The setting was well rendered, no matter where they were (they visit Paris, venture into the catacombs.) The amount of research that must have gone into this book was remarkable, yet we aren't beaten about the head with it. Rather, these accurate details are blended into the story. I was particularly interested in the medical practices and beliefs of the time, plus the experiences the vampires had been through in their long lives. Famous fires and religious hunts.
When I looked up Barbara Hambly, it turned out she has a particular interest in history, and has written historical mysteries (which this was, just one with vampires as the victims), as well as fantasy novels. Her writing was well paced and beautifully detailed. It was a pleasure to read, the words flowing forward. The conflict begins right away, with Asher creeping through his home in an attempt to figure out what has happened.
While Ysidro is the type of vampire you shouldn't turn your back on, he grows on you as the book proceeds. One could never fully trust him (unless he had given his word), but his personality slowly comes out, piece by piece, through the course of the book, and a delicate bond is formed between him and Asher.
This is one my top four so far. While it didn't scare me, it was still the type of vampire story I have become accustomed to. A little bit Anne Rice, it's more about the mystery than the horror. The most gruesome detail is the "person" responsible for murdering the vampires, making you question who the real evil beings are, and how far someone will go for their offspring. But I won't say more than that so I don't give anything more away.
I mentioned above that this is in my top four. So far, out of the books I've read, I've really enjoyed The Handmaid's Tale, Coraline, The Wolf's Hour, and now this one. I found The Handmaid's Tale the most chilling. What could be more terrifying than having your rights and life completely stripped from you one day, all because you're a woman? I'd say the order of the books I've read would look something like this, in terms of how much I liked them:
1. The Handmaid's Tale
3. Those Who Hunt the Night
4. The Wolf's Hour
5. The Imago Sequence
6. The Cipher
7. Drawing Blood
The next book I'll be reviewing is Best New Horror: Volume 1, edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell.
Have you read Barbara Hambly before? Which of her genres? How did you like her? Is this a book you might enjoy?
May you find your Muse.