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 ebookundead.com.