This book started out quite well for me by addressing the current political climate and making a dedication to Tolkien. As Ms. Beecroft quotes: “Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . . If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” I love that.
It was funny to read this just when I did, right around the same time I read another writer’s take on [book:Frankenstein], because while this is definitely not a rewriting of [book:Dracula] I’d still bet any money that the Alex Beecroft knows the latter book well. The atmosphere, especially throughout the beginning as protagonist Frank makes his way through the wilderness, is extremely reminiscent of Jonathan Harker’s travels to Romania.
I never knew that the reason to bury a vampire – or, I presume, anyone who might return as a ghost – at a crossroads is “so that even if they do walk again, they won’t know which way to take”. Brilliant.
I found it rather intriguing that neither of the two men at the center of this book, neither Frank nor Radu, is a conventionally heroic and amiable hero. Frank is not a brave man; Radu isn’t a particularly nice man – and they make for a seemingly deeply mismatched couple – but I liked their characterization. The author has proven herself over and over to have a beautiful gift for that.
Something I also liked was that though this is a book by an LGBT publisher, and features a pair of men who seem well on the way to becoming lovers, their orientation is not the primary focus of the book. For one thing, their plotline also features a very strong female character: a heroine in an m/m novel, when it seems like a lot of m/m novels I’ve read seem to have all but exclusively male casts of characters. “She was Mirela Badi, and in a contest between herself and the world, the world had better watch out.” I like it. Also, there is a whole separate second story line in which, so far, no one’s sexuality seems to be relevant at all (except for that one eunuch). I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting, but what I found is a really solid, fun fantasy.
At first I was a bit put out when the book switched over without warning to that second plot, a whole new set of characters in a totally different setting. But it did not take long at all for me to become surprisingly fond of Zayd, and his mother and his aunt, and fascinated by their world and predicaments. Because it also did not take long at all for Zayd to land in one mahoosive predicament. The worst-case-scenario of that difficulty is horrifying – and I think I’m looking forward to the second book more to see how he makes out than to see what happens to Frank and Radu (and Mirela). (A favorite line: “Only after Zayd had seen the destructive glory of the idea did he remember that his own powers amounted to nothing more than the ability to write neatly in small spaces.” Poor boy.)
I admire Alex Beecroft’s skill at storytelling – that’s why I keep coming back. She has a gift for doling out enough information to maintain interest, never showing her hand too early. The mysteries of characters’ pasts – and of their settings – emerge in a natural manner, the revelations to both reader and other characters coming just as and when they should. The world in which this story – these stories – take place is coming beautifully into focus, vivid in its colors, exotic, and different in ways that … well, I was going to use the word “fascinated” again. Put it this way instead: It’s a great time, and I can’t wait for more. And, happily, I don’t have to.
The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.