Monday, February 22, 2010

Grave Reviews #3



That’s the response Ben Gongliewski receives, when he asks Miranda Dandridge how long she’s been a vampire. He doesn’t expect the word forever in her reply, but then again, Ben never imagined meeting vampires, let alone demons and werewolves, during his time as a Resistance worker in World War II Poland. Far from being horrified, Ben discovers that Miranda and her friends have very useful … talents … especially when it comes to saving children from concentration camps. After all, in these desperate times, while the line between good and evil is clear, the one between heroes and monsters is very, very blurred.

 The last thing Miranda wants at this point in her immortal life is a human lover, but as she and Ben perform rescue after daring rescue, she can’t help but be drawn to his passion to save his fellow Jews. As the War draws to a close and Miranda must chose her love for Ben or her duty to her race, Ben is blindsided by a betrayal that no one sees coming. This leads to a danger in which all hell is about to break loose … literally…


If there is one supernatural topic I enjoy more than Vampires, it is Demons, Fallen Angels (Watchers, Grigori, Nephilim) and Black Magick (Occultism) and this book had bucketloads of the stuff. In RELEASE, Nicole Hadaway introduces us to three supernatural creatures: Miranda the Vampire, Rose The Werewolf and Vanessa The Demon/Nephilim Spirit/ex-Succubus. In helping Jewish children and their families across enemy lines to safety in WWII, the trio meet Ben Gongliewski, a Jew posing as a doctor who would diagnose Jewish children with typhus, leprosy or other horrible ailments so he could get them across enemy lines to surrogate families, and away from the evil Nazis and their concentration camps. He works with a German Priest named Father Ott who would take them to a shelter supposedly created to care for the children, and then would send them on their way to families who would protect and raise them.

Initially Ben falls for Rose's heartshaped face, and while having a meal in a cafe frequented by SS solders, and discussing their plans to rescue more children during the early days of working together, the SS soldiers pick up on Rose's crap German and trap them in a tunnel while they fled, which they set alight.

Lucky for Rose she has a demonic mark on her from Vanessa which leads to their rescue and Ben's introduction into the supernatural world. While falling for Miranda, the Vampire he learns of their specific traits and weaknesses, and how theirs is a secret history that exists alongside human history.

Firstly for Vampires, they are an actual race as opposed to turned humans. The product of an unholy union between Lilith, the first woman, and Sammael, a Fallen Angel, Vampires are actually born, and grow till a certain age until their immortality kicks in. Besides eternal life, they possess shape-shifting, enchanced physical abilities and senses, eye mojo and preternatural healing. Miranda and her twin-brother Cray (vampires are usually born twins, perhaps in a twisted visage to Cain and Abel) prefer to take the shape of a crow, and can transport a passenger in the shape of a twig.

They cannot turn humans into vampires, the result is more of a mindless zombie that kills without thought. To procreate and continue their race, they must marry another vampire with an ancient rite to bear children. If they do not perform the rite, ghastly things can happen like the female vampire becoming barren.

Vampire weaknesses include fire, sunlight, water, holy water, and decapitation (with angelic weapons). Normal water hurts them and diminishes their powers because they are descended from an Angel, that is a Being of Fire, and they cannot cross onto Holy Ground, Holy objects will repel them if the bearer possesses enough Faith, and they must be invited into a human dwelling that mirrors Lilith's casting out from Eden, and Sammael expulsion from Heaven. Vampires are no longer part of humanity, but must seek sustenance from them in some kind of twisted cosmic joke. Stakes through the heart will paralyse but not destroy them.

Werewolves are the traditional kind here, they are cursed but cannot pass it on through a bite or claw, but it's more of a heriditary curse passed down from ancestors who made a pact with a demon and ended up on the bad side of the joke. Rose turns at full moon and kills and devours most humans in her path. She won't attack supernatural creatures unless provoked, and can be deterred from humans through scent if they rub the blood from a supernatural creature on their bodies.

Sometimes Rose will turn two nights a month, before or after the night of the Full Moon if the Moon itself is potent enough, and on nights such as Walpurgisnacht (April 30th) and Halloween (October 31st) a werewolf can be haunted by the spirits of innocents she has killed.  Other than that they are mortal and can be killed easily in human form, they age, can die from cancer and other human sicknesses but are a bit more resilent to human viruses such as the flu or common cold.

Now onto my favourite subject, Demons/Fallen Angels: Vanessa is a Nephilim spirit, the union of the Watcher Azazael and others who came down from the Mt Ararat and found the Daughters of Men and found them beautiful. Vanessa is the offspring of Azazael and Naamah, the Daughter of Cain. They gave birth to Nephilim, giants and monsters who were originally wiped out with the Great Flood. They were bound to Hell for a time, working as incubus, succubi or debt collectors. After a while trapped in the abyss, the Watchers figured out how to put the spirits of the Nephilim into human corpses so they could walk the Earth.

In corpereal form they don't possess the same physical powers as vampires, they are stronger than humans but not faster. Their sight and hearing is greater, but not their sense of smell. They can teleport and possess pyrokinesis, and if their human host is killed by either sunlight or enferous (angelic) metals they will lose the memories they retained with that host, but their spirit will live on to possess again. If they enter Holy Ground they start to smoulder, smoke and catch fire as indicated in a hilarious scene when Vanessa accidently teleports into a church while rescuing children.

When demons sleep during the day their bodies are become the corpses they once where as the demon's spirits roam Sheol, a middle-realm that is neither Heaven nor Hell.

After some initial rescue missions are a success, the supernatural Charlie's Angels get into a bit of strife clashing with SS Soldiers and reveal their abilities. After rescuing a boy from a concentration camp, a tale of the "Brides of Dracula" begin to spread around Germany and Europe. This reaches the ears of Nazi Occultists such as Himmler and Wiligut who became keen to use their supernatural talents to release Azazael from his Hellish prison with other demons to follow. News of this trouble finds the ears of Cray, Miranda's brother and Denny, a demon who hunt down Miranda to warn her and her friends of the imminent danger, but the damage has been done.

Ben is crushed to learn the Father Ott has betrayed them, and has renounced Catholicism to embrace the Nazi religion Irminism, whose central deity Krist was adopted by the latter Christians as their saviour. He had tricked Ben into sending him children for an unholy rite from the Key of Solomon at Wewelsburg Castle, the Centre of the World according to Himmler, where the Black Sun symbol featured on the novel's jacket along inside a vault in the castle would open a portal to Hell, and grant power to Ott that the demons 'promised' him. He kidnaps Gertrude, a human witch working with Miranda and Co, and uses her with the help of demon possessed SS soldiers into an initial meeting with Ben and the 'Brides of Dracula'.

After a nasty fight that reveals Ott's plan and a portion of his unholy power, The Supernatural Resistance Fighters consisting of Miranda, Cray, Vanessa, Denny, Rose (now more conscious in her werewolf form), Gertrude (a human witch), Helen (Gertrude's mortal lover) and Ben descend upon the castle in an effort to prevent the Nazi apocalypse. Cray inadverdently opens the portal when he spills Ott's blood upon the Black Sun, and demons begin to pour forth from the portal, counting up to 616, which is the unholy number required to release Azazael.

They are successful in defeating the Nazis only after Miranda summons Sammael (a rite given to her by Semjaza for a price), her grandfather and sire of the vampire line to gift her with the Raphael's "Pent Alpha Ring", the same ring that Solomon used to control demons to build his famed temple.

This transforms her into a monstrous Dragon, whereby she devours all the spirits, and tosses Azazael along with the Nazi Occultist Wiligut Jr back into the abyss and using Raphael power of "Healer of the Earth", seals the portal from further use.

Sammael and Lilith appear at Wewelsburg Castle, to spirit their children to safety from the rising sun, and here we learn the lore of mirrors in regards to vampires. They avoid mirrors because they are portals to the demon realm, and they would rather not have demons looking upon their affairs. Some of the characters see a brief interaction between Sammael and Ben but think nothing of it at the time.

Once they take a quick stop to Lilith's creepy cave, they end up back in Brooklyn at the Dandridge residence where after a small respite Rose decides to reunite with her family.

But not all is over yet. Ben, exasperated from the events of the last year is not only angry with his limitations as a mortal, but also the reluctance of supernatural creatures to prevent atrocities with their vast powers. Miranda has offered an attempt to turn him but that is not enough. Taking the opportunity when the supernaturals are out of the house, he raids Miranda's library for The Key of Solomon to summon Semjaza for a deal (which I assume Sammael planted in his mind at Wewelsburg). Here we learn the price that Miranda has paid for summoning her father Sammael, and Ben summons Semjaza to kill Hitler, Himmler and the Goebbels for their crimes in return for his own soul, to which Semjaza agrees.

Knowing something is amiss with Ben since he left Wewelsburg Castle, Denny, Vanessa and Cray confront Miranda about her silly interlude with a human, and realise too late they left him with access to an occult library on Walpurgisnacht! Semjaza drains Ben dry in front of Miranda's horrified eyes and drags his corpse to Hell, letting her know the price of their victory was at a steep cost. But I get the feeling we haven't seen the last of Ben. Miranda falls into a fit of complete despair but comes out of it over time, and vows to not interfere or indulge in human (love) affairs anymore....


This was a great read, and while I found it slow to get into at the start like most stories until you warm up to the characters, finding the eBook format a bit off-putting originally, and I feared with the book featuring mostly female characters it would be some kind of chick-lit that I usually turn my nose up at, I soon changed my mind as I read on. The flow was great, and the characters engaging and sympathetic, though I found Vanessa a tad underused, I would read a novel purely based around her as protagonist (along with Denny) and her kind, with Fallen Angels et al.

I really enjoyed this story especially for its Demonic/ Fallen Angel content. I don't think it would have been as enjoyable without Vanessa, the Fallen Angels and Nazi Occultism, and if it was a straight vampire novel (set in the same situation and period) I think I would have found it a tad dull. I still enjoyed Miranda's character, and found it an interesting spin on a male vampire seducing a boxom lass, and I found her interaction with her twin brother Cray invigorating.

Rose was great too and I enjoyed her tragic circumstance, and how she has come to except her curse as it's only a part of her life, really only 12 days or so out of 365 which really isn't very much. Here also I got the impression that the werewolf curse was meant to mirror a woman's menstral cycle, where the ferociousness of the Werewolf curse mirrored a woman's moodiness, wrath and pain through her monthlies (those these last for more than one night obviously).

Ben was used to great effect as the human connection and the readers' portal into the maelstrom of the supernatural world. Like most humans who I imagine would experience similar circumstances, they would feel an initial fear, and attempt to destroy what he feared, but if they overcame their own prejudices they would be eager to soak up all the knowledge from these creatures like a sponge.

I thought it was a bit shallow of Ben falling for Miranda after the initial attraction to Rose, especially since I think Cray was right that he only liked Miranda for her otherworldliness and the thrill it would bring, especially if she could grant him a portion of that power. I felt he cast Rose aside almost out of disgust for her curse, and perhaps because she couldn't pass the power of the Wolf along to him. But in a way this is realistic, as we humans DO tend to keep people around us that we can use to our betterment, and dismiss things that aren't of use to us though usually in most cases this is reciprocated.

I was quite thrilled to learn that the The Black Sun, Wewelsburg Castle, and Wiligut where actually real places, events and people. Even though these were dark times and atrocious acts occured during this period, it still makes for exciting storytelling, and a great pool for drawing villains from, similar to how Rasputin and Nazi Occultism was used in the Hellboy Mythology. I, for one don't think using Nazis as villains is trite if it's done properly and their sinister presence is used to perilous effect. Though from what I've heard from friends who have visited Germany, the Germans are sick to death of being brow-beaten about it (the war).

I have studied The Goetia (Aleister Crowley), Enochian Magic, Demonology texts, The Book of Enoch (and books on the Watchers such as From the Ashes of Angels by Andrew Collins) and related texts in the past, and I was quite impressed with the rich infusion of those lores in this story, along with Nicole's meticulous historical research of the war that she cleverly intergrated into this debut novel. But to add I was intrigued of Nicole's use of alternate spelling for some of the Fallen Angels: I always saw Semjaza spelt as Shemyaza, Sammael as Samael and Azazael as Azazel.

I haven't read The Key of Solomon in full, only flicked through it at a friend's house in the past but now I have to acquire my own copy! Then I just need to visit a certain castle in Germany to see if it works....

If I could mention some criticisms it would be some of the speech especially from Vanessa. I think she was protrayed as too hip and carefree for the period, and her speech seemed a bit too modern at times. For me this eccentricity would need to be fixed if she were to become more prominent in any sequels or if she was to appear in her own novel.

Also at first I wasn't sure about the use of supernatural creatures that descended from creatures outside the human race. Part of the lure of supernatural fiction for me and others is that the reader can get into the power of the vampire protagonist etc, and sympathize with them because they came from humans, and fantasize that they too can become a creature like the character they are reading about.

Here was removed some sympathetic connection as humans could not gain the power of a vampire, werewolf or demon unless they were born of that race, but to be honest after a short while I enjoyed that angle, as it showed the true mortality and hopelessness of the human race, and also how their inherent evil can come from within and not from supernatural influence. While having Lilith as the mother of Vampires is not original, having creatures that didn't come from the human gene pool to me is. I don't think I've read a vampire novel where they weren't formerly human, so this was a breath of fresh air.

If you are into Supernatural fiction, and/or enjoy a good historical fantasy than this book is for you.

My Grade is B+.

Nicole's eBook can be purchased here at

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Grave Reviews #2

"Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the Autumn moon is bright"

Haunted Estates, Family Curses, Victorian Gothic Landscapes and a Insatiable Monster. The perfect formula for a Horror movie and The Wolf Man is one such movie.

***Contains Spoilers***

The film begins with Ben Talbot getting attacked by the Werewolf on a full moon. Shortly after, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt) writes to Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro), the brother of her missing fiancee to give him the news of his brother's disappearance and to perhaps help in the search. Upon arrival to Talbot Hall in the town of Blackmoor, Lawrence's father Sir John (Anthony Hopkins) is surprised to see his oldest son return, remarking quite coldly that he always wondered what he looked like.

Upon investigating the death of his brother and seeing the horrific state of his corpse, Lawrence is given his brother's effects at the morgue, which include a gyspy medallion that leads him to their camp. He goes there to speak to Maleva, a gypsy elder, though his father had warned him previously to stay inside this night as the moon was full, and it would perhaps influence the escaped lunatic held responsible for the ghastly murders. Also that night at the tavern Lawrence overhears suspicious townfolk talk of monsters and curses, which he initially dismisses.

Soon enough at the camp the werewolf strikes, killing gypsy and villager alike and while hunting the beast with a rifle in the process of saving a gypsy boy, Lawrence is attacked and bitten but spared his life as gypsies scare it off with gunfire. Lawrence is taken back the gypsy camp where he wounds are tended and they argue over murdering him to spare him the Werewolf's curse. Maleva says to kill a man is a sin and the next morning he is returned to Talbot Hall to a shocked, but relieved Sir John.

Gwen watches over Lawrence for a week and he makes a miraculous recovery. The bite on his shoulder has almost disappeared as has his arm healed. A doctor inspects him, and is surprised at his recovery, and soon after sees the arrival of Inspector Aberline (Hugo Weaving), who was in charge of the Ripper Case. He is aware of Lawrence's past, his time in a lunatic asylum soon after witnessing the suicide of his mother as a boy. He found his father cradling his mother in the courtyard, her throat slit with a razor, an apparent suicide.

Furthermore, Lawrence and Gwen begin to grow close and develop feelings, much to the unamused Sir John watching from the distance.

Aberline suspects that Lawrence is still deranged from seeing the murder of his mother, and adds that due to his skill of impersonating Shakespearean characters on stage, that other more malevolent personalities lurk beneath the surface, though all wear the same face. Lawrence counters that Aberline was in charge of the Ripper case, and since the Ripper was never found either Aberline is incompetent or was the Ripper himself.

The full moon has come to Blackmoor and Talbot Hall, and Lawrence wanders the desolate halls, remembering his time as a boy, and the suicide of his mother. He sees his father walking to the family crypt where Sir John's wife is interred and follows him down to the lower levels. There Lawrence discovers a hidden room with a cell door attached, and inside the room a chair fit for a lunatic with straps and head brace. Sir John explains that he has been dead inside since the death of his wife, and locks himself in the room saying to his son that 'the beast will have his day'. As Sir John walks into the shadows his eyes shimmer with an unnatural light.

As Lawrence starts to ascend from the crypt, the curse takes violent hold of his body for the first time. He changes and prowls the hills of Blackmoor, coming across a trap laid by the villagers with a deer tied to a pole. The werewolf falls into the pit, but manages to pull several of his captors in, dismember them and then leap out of the hole killing the rest of the hunting party.

Lawrence awakens in the base of a tree not far from Talbot Hall, to be greeted by his father stating he has done terrible things. His clothes are torn and bloody, and as he runs back to his home confused and shocked he is arrested by Aberline and his men. Sir John mentions from a distance to stay strong.

Lawrence is tortured and injected with various drugs in the same asylum he spent time as a child, the Doctor in charge of his case amused to study a case of mental lycanthropy, not knowing that the curse is a reality. After several days Lawrence awakens chained in his cell to find his father sitting there, who recounts a tale of one of his hunting expeditons 25 years he sought a cave were a strange creature was sought to reside. He found the cave, and the creature which was a wolf boy who bit him on the forearm.

At first Sir John thought he was the target of some practical joke by his friends, until his first full moon came and he killed his wife which was the actual scene Lawrence saw as a child, though Sir John had made the institution make him believe his mother had killed herself. His memory true now he sees his father now in his werewolf form sitting hungry over the body of his mother, her throat torn, not sliced by a razor.

Sir John also confesses his secret love for Gwen, and that he grew jealous of his son's relationship with her, and also his possession of his own son whom he knew would leave when the two married. On the previous full moon as his servant Singh chained him to the chair in the crypt, a drunk and enraged Sir John knocked out his servant and in wolf form murders his own son, and discovers his body in a ditch the next morning.

Sir John tells his son to embrace his curse, and that it is really a gift for the strength and power of it make you greater and freer than any man. After years of locking himself in the crypt, he had decided to let the beast roam free.

Lawrence vows to kill his father for the murder of his mother and brother, and as Sir John leaves the asylum, Lawrence is tied to a chair similar to what his father owns, and is taken to a court of scholars lead by the head Doctor who insists as the full moon rises that night, and Lawrence sees he does not transform, that this will be the first step to his mental recovery. Aberline is present and is horrified along with the scholars as the full moon brings about a physical transformation in Talbot who begins killing the panicked crowd before leaping through a window he previously tossed the head Doctor through and begins a rampage on the London streets.

The next morning Lawrence awakens next to the Thames near the London Bridge and makes his way to Gwen's antique shop. There he confesses his curse, his father's crimes and his intention to murder his father for revenge. Gwen confesses her affections and desire to help no matter the cost, and Lawrence manages to escape as Aberline comes to her shop knowing that Lawrence would come there.

While Lawrence makes his way slowly back to Talbot Hall, Gwen researches lycanthropy in the British Library, and seeks out Maleva for a way to remove the curse, only to learn there is no cure and only a loved one can set the wolf free.

Lawrence arrives to find a murdered Singh and the body of one of Aberline's men, and attempts to kill his father in human form with Singh's silver shotgun shells. As Sir John beats his son with his silver wolf cane, he states that he removed the powder from the shells years ago, and where once he thought Lawrence the cowardly son, he has now come to admire his strength. He continues that Lawrence is his heir to both his fortune and the curse, and that makes him proud and that they should rule together as a monstrous family, to embrace the beast inside them.

Lawrence attacks but is easily overpowered by a man who has been under the power of the curse for much longer, and mid-fight they both change under the light of the Full Moon. Aberline sees Gwen arrive at Blackmoor and chases after her, and Talbot Hall begins to erupt in flames as lanterns were knocked over during the battle. Lawrence is almost dismembered by his father before he kicks him into the fireplace setting him alight, and decapitates him with a single stroke of his claw.

Gwen arrives, and Lawrence sniffs new prey. Aberline attempts to rescue Gwen but is bitten in the process, and Gwen manages to flee Talbot Hall with Aberline's gun loaded with silver bullets. She runs to the waterfall that was a refuge for Ben and Lawrence as boys, and is cornered by Lawrence but manages to calm the beast when she reminds Lawrence of her love for him. The Wolf grows calm and seems to be ready to withdraw, when Lawrence is once more provoked by the appearance of Aberline and his men. The werewolf turns to kill Gwen but she takes up the gun once more and shots him in the heart. Returning to his human form, Gwen begs for forgiveness, while Lawrence states he is glad to finally find peace.

Aberline's men arrive to find a dead Lawrence cradled in Gwen's arm, and she notices the bloody bite on Aberline's shoulder as he looks towards the full moon with dread. The Curse of the Werewolf lives on.


I loved this film, and was filled with glee that good old Gothic Horror had returned to the cinema. There was no sappy teenage love, or supernatural creatures with superhuman powers trying to save the day. This was a Gothic Tragedy through and through and I hope it sees a return of REAL horror to the cinema.

All the actors were terrific and sublime in their parts. Del Toro made a worthy successor to Lon Chaney Jr and even steps it up a notch or two with his character's tortured soul. His role suited up as the Wolf Man was phenomenal and quite horrific, the lack of humanity in the curse was evident here, and the pain and despair on his face after he discovered his monstrous actions was quite heartbreaking.

I have never seen Emily Blunt in any other film that I am aware of, but she is a pretty lass and did quite well here as the innocent Gwen who seemed to be cursed in her own way with her ties to the Talbot Family. Unlucky for her was that every Talbot male sought to possess her body and soul, though it just happened that two of them were monsters. Emily looks wonderful in her Victorian outfits, and played out Gwen's desperation and loyalty to the Talbot family quite convincingly.

Unsurprisingly, Anthony Hopkins stole the show for me as Sir John Talbot. I had guessed before going in that he was also cursed, and I guess it wasn't that hard to figure out along with the reveal half way through the film. He played the role of Sir John with a quiet menace, and as a man who was quite comfortable with the beast inside him, who knew what the beast wanted, and gave in to its possessiveness and evil. I've always preferred Hopkins villianous roles to his heroic ones, save for Van Helsing in Dracula, and one only thinks he needs to be cast in a remake of Frankenstein to be associated with the whole range of classic monsters.

Hugo Weaving was great as Inspector Aberline, a man cursed with his own failure to put a premature stop to the Ripper murders, and to give respect back to his name by investigating the murders of Blackmoor. Hugo plays the role with a direct yet cool calculation, using the past knowledge and a skeptical analysis to determine the facts of the crime, and it almost destroys him to see that the supernatural is indeed real and responsible for the carnage in Blackmoor.

I assumed then and there that he now would consider a similar theory for the Jack the Ripper murders which were just as ghastly as they were here. I didn't suspect he would get bitten at the end and the curse passed on, and although I am not sure of a sequel I would unsure if Aberline's character would headline, but if he did would be be hero or villain?

Most importantly was the Gothic Landscapes and settings of this film. Besides an obvious plot of tragedy and curses, the use of decayed English Landmarks such as Chatsworth House, Castle Combe and Stowe house were a win for me, besides the horsedrawn hearses and Gothic Mausoleums. The Gothic costuming was exquisite, it's not hard to see that Victorian England is my favourite point in history as are it's literature and fashions.

If I had problems with the film it was the following: For starters I don't think the budding romance between Lawrence and Gwen was that believable. Surely people can fall for each other fast in a sexual way, but this was Victorian England and we are lead to believe that in a short amount of time that both Lawrence and Gwen fall head over heels for each other, even though they did not share many scenes, nor to my knowledge spend much real time together. Sure Gwen watched over him while he recovered, but there was no horseriding, no picnics out on the hills, not a day in London attending the theatre or dining in fine restaurants where they could have grown to love each other and develop their tragic romance.

Lawrence spends most of the film either investigating his brother's murder, recovering in bed, killing people as a werewolf, or locked up and tortured in an asylum. There really wasn't time for an ill-fated romance to blossom let alone enough time for 'true love' to win out to end the curse.

My other problem was the use of CGI though this is only minor. The filmmakers had Rick Baker for this film, and if you don't know who he is I only have to mention An American Werewolf  in London for you to get on the same page. He constructed the suit and prosthetics for Del Toro to wear but the transformation itself was computer generated and you could tell.

It was almost flawless but for an old horror fan like me, prosthetics and other make-up effects will always be the way for me. Additionally even though they shot the film in medieval villagers like Wiltshire and Chatsworth, changing London landmarks such as The London Bridge and Big Ben and The Tower of London etc just looked fake, and possessed that same dark blue hue that ravages the modern Underworld films, though the werewolves and story in this are much better.

In the end I still enjoyed this immensely, and I plan on seeing it again next week.

My Grade is A-.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Grave Reviews #1

Welcome to my new column GRAVE REVIEWS where I review fictional works in the Horror Genre. Please be aware that in reviewing these works I may offer possible spoilers from the story.

Concilium Sanguinarius is Andrew M. Boylan's first full-length novel, and a great novel at that. Entirely about the dark, secretive and destructive world of vampires, this first book in a future series of novels tells the tale of two vampires: Ymochel of the Uriel Bloodline, a Nubian vampire granted the Velvet Kiss circa CE74 Pompeii, and Danaan, a vampire of the Shangi-Di bloodline brought across in 1067. In this work vampires are known among their kind as The Velvet, and the act of transforming a human to the vampire as the Velvet Kiss.

These two vampires fates become crossed when Danaan in her role as the Concilium's Praetorian (vampire enforcer) she is ordered to kill Ymochel's Fledgling Radu Tepes in 1819, for crimes against the vampires. Ymochel swears vengeance on Danaan and spends 160 years plotting his revenge while he is held captive to Qutrub of the Flesh, a vampire who oversees torture, and prepares future Praetorians mentally and physically for their tasks ahead.

Both vampires are tortured, yet powerful creatures. Danaan feels a great sadness due to her estrangement from her Sponsor Adrianne due to childish and arrogant actions, that almost across a period of a century cost both of them their unlives on several occasions. In an effort to make amends, Danaan takes the sash of a Praetorian to enforce the law of the Concilium, but for Danaan it may be a too little too late.

So Danaan walks through the centuries, taking different guises in wondrous lands such as Kirkless, the Forest of Robin Hood in the 14th Century, and as Erzebet Bathory's cousin in 16th Century Transylvania at the haunting Castle Csejthe. This was the period where the insane Countess committed her most foul deeds of bathing in the blood of 600 women, a situation that Danaan feels responsible for.

It's not until in the depths of loneliness and despair that Danaan crosses paths with Beatrice in 21st Century New York, and she seeks her as an eternal companion to bring comfort to her endless days. Ymochel stalking Danaan since his release from the Flesh sees this as a perfect opportunity to exact revenge of the injustice of destroying his Fledgling and interferring with his grand plan of revenge and dominance.

Danaan is a vampire of the Shang-Di bloodline, vampires who are mentalists, can read and affect people's thoughts and influence their dreams. The enzyme in their bite also produces a pleasurable effect in mortals.

Ymochel is a Nubian vampire that was brought into the Velvet by Uriel the Leech before the final days of Pompeii. As a member of the Uriel Bloodline, their blood contains an enzyme that produces lactic acid in the victim's bloodstream causing pain and discomfort similar to an ant's bite as they feed. They are more sensitive to the presence of other vampires and can sense them up to a mile away (with notable exceptions such as those from the Undjit Bloodline that can hide their presence in plain sight).

In his service the Leech taught his servant many secrets, such as gorging oneself on blood so they may fight off the effects of stupor that causes a vampire to surrender to sleep as the sun rises above the horizon. In this Ymochel becomes guardian over his Sponsor's villa and sleeping body during the daylight hours.

Ymochel despises his slavehood, and as a creature of the Velvet desires the same freedom and power that the Ancients' possess, and it isn't until the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in CE79 that Ymochel has his chance for escape and learns several hidden secrets of his kind.

When the Mt Vesuvius has its initial eruption, he discovers after he attacks the annoying slave Augustus that drinking a vampire's blood takes a portion of their power and increases his own, and also forces a psychological servitude onto the attacked vampire. In the final day of Pompeii, Ymochel takes a risk to drain his Sponsor to the point of death while fleeing the villa, and casts his body into the incoming lava, losing an arm to the molten stone in the process. He gains vast powers from this act, not only absorbing greater strength, but the traits and powers of the vampire he had consumed. When an Ancient dies their psychic death is felt for miles around, and other Ancients can detect the death of their kin no matter where they are in the world.

Ymochel is rescued by Praetorians, and as the only vampiric survivor of Pompeii relates the story to the Concillium and to Uriel's oldest Fledgling Remus, who becomes the new Ancient of the Bloodline. When questioned by The Morning Star, a vampire who can detect untruths, he discovers he can pass off lies as truth with the power he stole from his Sponsor, thus obtaining the freedom he always desired.

With newfound power, freedom and the secret of power absorption, Ymochel sets a plan in motion to conquer the vampiric world. As a hero of Pompeii, he is granted permission to sponsor Vlad Tepes' brother Radu, keep his mortal name* and secretly they plot the downfall of the Concilium. Only when Radu's crimes are revealed is he executed by Danaan, and Ymochel is sentenced to a century or more of torture at the hands of The Flesh to atone for his Fledgling's own crimes, which unknown to all are of his own making.

We meet further interesting characters such as Fenrir, a vampire of the Undjit bloodline who can become 'insignificant', and walk among mortals and immortal alike undetected. I became quite fond of Fenrir, and hope to see more of him in the sequels, and in regards to Qutrub the Flesh, not only the torturer of vampires but the instigator of World wars, I look forward to seeing him get his just desserts, possibly at the hands of Ymochel or perhaps someone else we least expect.

The story ends on a cliffhanger as Ymochel is denied his vengeance of Danaan momentarily, but his schemes and crimes are now brought to light to the Concilium. Will Danaan and Fenrir be able to stop the near-invincible Ymochel, and will Danaan make amends with her Sponsor? In the Epilogue we meet a mysterious creature named 'The Watcher' who may or may not be influencing the events of our vampires like pieces on a chessboard. I look forward to the sequel.

Andrew is the creator of the quality vampire genre review blog known as Taliesin Meets the Vampires. As a great lover of the vampire genre, it seems only natural that with his depth of knowledge of the genre from the amount of vampire movies/books he has reviewed that his first book is a well written labour of love. What I loved about this story was the incremental flashbacks of the characters that showed the progression of Ymochel and Danaan, and how through their actions, mostly selfish and arrogant, lead them down a path that will surely lead to one (or perhaps both) of their destruction(s).

Flashbacks set across centuries are always gold in my eyes, which is why TV shows such as Forever Knight and Highlander are still amongst my favourite TV shows. The grand scale of an immortal characters' background can make for fascinating storytelling if done right as it is done here, and gives the reader time to sympathise with these tragic creatures.

Another positive aspect of Andrew's story is the flow. The book was so easy to read. the story wasn't overly descriptive nor pompous in its delivery, there was a great balance of scene setting and dialogue, which was realistic and engaging.

If I could point out one or two minor weaknesses in the story it's Andrew's love of the Gothic Aesthetic, and use of different clans of the vampires. Like most authors I assume Andrew wrote a story he wanted to read and himself enjoyed reading, but I believe he may limit the story's readership by setting it in the subculture of the Gothic world, if only partially. The use of a Latin title for the story was a bit strange, and I wondered why Andrew just didn't call the story The Vampire Council or the Council of Blood for example.

The use of many clans/bloodlines may be not as confusing to seasoned vampire genre fans as myself who have played Vampire roleplaying games, but some readers may find the use of so many bloodlines confusing, even though their use is to describe different vampires powers, political viewpoints and philosophies.

I recommended read for Vampire Genre fans and new fans looking for an intelligent, yet enjoyable vampire tale. My Grade is B.

You can purchase Andrew's novel here.

Andrew's Vampire genre review blog can be found here.

* When a vampire is granted the Velvet Kiss they are given a new name by their Sponsor that will see them throughout eternity. This is so they can find it easier to leave their old life behind, and also adjust easier to their new one in the process of cutting mortal ties and adhering to the laws and ways of the Concilium.

The Warlock's Library #4

The Vampire Bible by The Temple Of The Vampire.

Within Lies Fact and Fancy, Truth and Metaphor. Discriminate with Care.

The Vampire Bible is the first in a series of five Bibles published by the Temple of The Vampire that began as an experiment by some members of The Church of Satan back in 1989, and is actually a registered religion with the U.S Government.

Like the COS it champions power, wealth and human potential to the greatest degree. I say human but to the Temple its members and future members view themselves as more than human. Like the Vampire of folklore they crave power and wield it without guilt. They know they are supreme, and have a higher calling than the human sheep of this world and have no qualm in answering that call, but we will also see that these vampires are nothing like their mythical counterpart in deed and operation.

The TOV offer a glimpse of the six secrets of Earthly power on their home page:

1. Develop willpower and mental strength.
2. Get your way with people.
3. Master self-defense secrets.
4. Improve and protect your health.
5. Achieve authentic financial freedom.
6. Live beyond the usual human lifespan.

Here I will discuss some of the contents of the Vampire Bible, and give a brief outline of its tenets. The Bible is only 50 pages in length but gives an introduction to philosophies and religious origins, how they 'feed' and nurture power, along with some of their other mysteries. To give you an idea as to the mind set and mission of the Temple and its members I reproduce their creed here:


I am a Vampire.
I worship my ego and I worship my life, for I am the only God that is.
I am proud that I am a predatory animal and I honor my animal instincts.
I exalt my rational mind and hold no belief that is in defiance of reason.
I recognize the difference between the worlds of truth and fantasy.
I acknowledge the fact that survival is the highest law.
I acknowledge the Powers of Darkness to be hidden natural laws through which I work my magic.
I know that my beliefs in Ritual are fantasy but the magic is real, and I respect and acknowledge the results of my magic.
I realize there is no heaven as there is no hell, and I view death as the destroyer of life.
Therefore I will make the most of life here and now.
I am a Vampire.
Bow down before me.

The Winged Skull of UR

The Temple's motto is: Test Everything - Believe Nothing. This is similar to the Satanic Credo of Doubt, and where Doubt is more important than Truth, the utilisation of doubt leads to the real truth through investigation. With the topics and rituals within the Vampire Bible, the Temple and its Priesthood ask you to fully investigate and verify their claims and knowledge for yourself. They accept no flights of fancy, nor delusions or fantasies. These people are discouraged and turned away from the Temple as are criminals who break the laws of their respective governments. The Temple has disdain for those who break human law, especially those who are members of the Temple, and ex-communicates such imbeciles without compunction. Like the COS, the TOV gives responsibility to the responsible, and expects its members to behave in a responsible and adult manner within society.

Through its first Bible, the Temple is quick to discourage the classical and fantastical view of the vampire and views blood-drinking as a metaphor and a practise for blood fetishists that has nothing to do with the real Vampire. Once again such sanguine practitioners are turned away. Temple members are taught a form of psychic vampirism, a secretive yet moral way to take Lifeforce that is discarded from humans and use to expand their own power, and those that run the Temple including the Undead Gods. 

The TOV revere Tiamat, the Dragon God of Babylonian Myth that was the Goddess of the Sea who gave birth to a variety of monsters. The Priesthood in the TOV is regarded as the Priesthood of UR with UR referring to an Ancient city in Southern Mesopotamia (Sumer) whose patron God was Nanna, the God Of the Moon. For the TOV, Tiamat is the ultimate Undead God and is the source of all things, and all Lifeforce and it is through her that a Vampire can obtain true Lifeforce through the Ritual Of The Calling in a form of vampiric communion with the Undead Gods (sacrifice) with the symbology of a mirror, the very symbol of Tiamat.

The ritualistic aspects are very Sumerian in nature as they should be given their origin. The TOV claim that these secrets have been held by those in power since ancient times and known by such groups as Freemasons and other mystics. Now they have decided through public experiment to relay this information to those that are worthy. Part of the ritual asks the Vampire Sorceror to call To the Four Winds, which resemble to Watchtowers of Sumerian Myth. Here the practitioner through this ritual learns of the symbiotic nature of this Temple, and the true secret to its power.

In the world of the Vampire there are three realities: Dayside, Nightside and Twilight.

The Dayside is the skeptical side of the Vampire, and the keyword is doubt. The Vampire needs to approach life with a seriousness of no-nonsense and their utmost mission to acquire material possession and wealth, to live finanicially comfortable, and never worry about money again. The result of this is hedonism in its purest form, and masters of their own life, which is a natural consequence of attaining one's greatest potential.

The Nightside contains the magical side to the Vampire. Belief in magick when harnessed, and the will of the Powers of Darkness manipulated and controlled by the vampire's desire and all traditional vampire powers become reality. The Vampire is the quintessential Chaos Magician, using different belief systems and paradigms that serve his purpose at that particular time. The Power of the Astral Body is absolute.

The Twilight is the successful melding of truth and fantasy, mixing doubt and belief together into a workable model for the Vampire to attain complete success, and to mold their world into one that suits their needs and desires. They become both master of reality and dreams, and essentially become the Dragon, become their own God.

There are five grades or circles within the Temple, and after the Vampire acquires the appropriate Bible for the next grade, studies, understands and passes the tests within are they able to graduate to the next level.
The five levels are: Initiate, Predator, Priest(ess), Sorceror(ess) and Adept.

Most literature from the TOV is reasonably priced, but priced nonetheless to turn the unworthy and generally curious away.

In regards to Immortality, the TOV offer two choices, one through science (cryogenics) and the other through their own magickal methods. The TOV do not believe in reincarnation and that this life is your only life, and you need to make the most of it here and now, become the best you can be, surround yourself with greatness and you will be great. All losers and wannabes in your life must be discarded and will be forgotten in the sands of time as they crumble to dust and memory.

Disclaimer: No, I am not a member of the TOV and I do not endorse it.

The Black Orchestra #2

Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows

I love Anna-Varney Cantodea and her music, and she is an interesting fellow.

Yes, I did say fellow as Anna is actually a Transexual (transwoman), a man who dresses as a Gothic Lady, and lives like a woman, but has decided not to take that final step of having a sex change due to spiritual issues.

But don't let that stop you from listening to her music, as it's one of the better Darkwave bands you will ever experience in your life. In this review I plan not to review any particular album but just draw attention to some of my favourite songs, as well as give a small biography of this wonderful musician.

Anna started her musical project in 1989 as a way to deal with her depression in regards to her sexuality and gender issues along with an outlet to express her love of the Gothic Horror stories of Edgar Allen Poe and vampires. Other themes included such topics as unrequited love, occultism, isolation and romance. The Varney part of her name comes from Varney the Vampyre, the old Penny Dreadfuls of the Victorian Era and Cantodea means 'Female Singer' in Latin.

The name Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows comes from two separate sources. For Anna, her childhood was full of torment, constant bullying from her parents and peers, as well as childhood illnesses she sought a release from by sleeping most of it away. Anna practically became suicidal in her later years. Sopor Aeternus means Eternal Sleep in Latin, which mirrors Anna's attempted escape from the pain of reality.

The Ensemble of Shadows are Anna's muse and are a group of mysterious shadow/spirits that came to her during different periods of her life, firstly while on an operating table when she was a child, and later an an adult when she became overcome with sickness that almost caused her to go blind. They frequent her dreams and offer her comfort and musical inspiration, and after one of her rare outings into the real world to a German Goth club called Negativ, she met Holger and Sopor Aeternus and the Ensemble of Shadows was born out of a dark, melancholic void.

Anna's early work is dark, depressive, filled with pain and I think it's her best work, though throughout her career she has failed to disappoint, let alone sell out. She sings about vampires, death and her confusion about her gender, and also sings several of Poe poems such as The Innocence of Devils (Alone), The Sleeper and The Conqueror Worm. Poe seems to resonate with Anna more than most other artists, which could explain the wondrous yet hypnotising adaptations of his poems into song form. I believe that The Innocence of Devils speaks to Anna more than any of his other poems (besides the Sleeper for obvious reasons) when we look at the following verse:

From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone
Anna's view of vampirism in her music is quite Gothic, Necromantic and Traditional. In the song DEAD SOULS she sings:

Hidden behind merciful shadows, beyond the cruel daylight,
living to hunt and kill, we are the... damned children of the night.
Dragging our immune existence through thousands of centuries
and from dusk to dawn we suffer from our immortality.
Vampires for Anna are crypt-dwelling, corpse stealing horrors that live throughout eternity in pain and suffering secluded from the pulse of life and the joy of the sun. But for Anna it's not all gloom and doom, she generally loves the aesthetic of this necromantic creature as indicated in these later lyrics:
"I'm the resurrection-man, who steals his own corpse
and abducts himself to the beloved catacombs and vaults"
Other songs worth mentioning are the epic Hades Pluton, a beautiful song about a dark journey to the Underworld, and the folkish and haunting Shadowsphere about the world of shades. Anna's work could be described as baroque, classical and folkish with darkwave and Gothic influences. Most of the music is orchestral such as brass, strings and woodwind, and along with Anna's haunted and tortured style of singing makes for an experience like no other in the world of music.
In regards to Spiritualism, Anna reveres Saturn, the Ancient Roman God who devoured his own children when he become aware of a prophecy that one of his children would destroy him. Upon further investigation I believe that this reverence could be a form of dark humour for Anna.
Firstly Saturn is a metaphor that "indicates a tyrannical, domineering parent who seeks to mold his children in his own image and force them to live by his standards. Children often become swallowed up by such domination." Such could have been the case in relation to Anna's father or mother. Additionally, Saturn also represents feelings of isolation, sadness, depression, three events that Anna bears deep scars from due to her childhood and sexual confusion.
Besides the songs sampled I recommend the following albums for investigation:
1. Es Reiten Die So Toten Schnell (For the Dead Travel Fast)
2. Todeswunsch
3. Songs From The Inverted Womb
4. Flowers in Formaldehyde
5. Dead Lovers' Sarabande Face One and Two.