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.

1 comment:

  1. I too, loved Concilium and cannot wait for its sequel. I love historical fiction and the ancient Rome/Robin Hood stories were my favorite. Though after reading your review, I thought -- awwww, crap! My novel doesn't have any flashbacks to earlier time periods! I'm probably starting off as a C review already -- dammit!