Written by Colleen Gleason
Published in 2007 by Allison & Busby Limited
This book has some really well-written characters and some really badly-written ones and, surprisingly, there’s about an equal ratio in both the male and female category. First, the well-written characters.
Victoria Grantworth, our main hero and new Venator (vampire hunter), is an ordinary Regency debutante made extraordinary by her inheritance of vampire-hunting capabilities. She runs the risk of being just a soldier in a ballgown, blindly following orders whether it’s finding a dance partner or slaying a vampire. However, she manages to show enough autonomy to drive the plot forwards. She finds the information about the McGuffin the main villain wants and manages to claim it. She also shows herself capable of making mistakes too: the biggest of which being marrying Phillip Rockley but I’ll get to that later. She’s proud and sometimes sharp-tongued but is still as good with diplomacy as she is with a stake. She does learn from her mistakes too: after going it alone to retrieve the McGuffin and nearly losing it to the enemy, she remembers to bring along a few allies when she faces the Big Bad. She’s a good heroine and shows promise of being better in later books.
She is matched in likeability only by her maid, Verbena. She quickly surmises the existence of vampires by herself and Victoria can thank her lucky stars that she did. Verbena puts Victoria on some of her best leads and shows herself almost as capable as her mistress with her well-timed holy water attack on a group threatening Victoria’s mother. Yet, she does have her foibles. She’s much more nervous and less assertive than Victoria and I suppose that’s understandable since she is a servant. But, during her visit to a vampire tavern, she gets herself rather drunk and, though she gets away with it, it’s a serious lapse of judgement. Still, I don’t mind it. She’s an indispensable ally to Victoria, who should never go anywhere without her. Seriously, she ought to be made a Venator too. I call her my favourite female character.
Now, for the well-written male characters. First off, my favourite – Sebastian Vioget (is Colleen Gleason a fan of Alan Moore?). He presents a lovely shade of moral grey and ambiguity within the story. He owns a vampire-friendly tavern but he also acts as an informant to Venators. Then, he’s shown to be helping Lilith’s forces in the next scene and, next, he’s helping Victoria again. Just whose side is he on? Or, is he on his own side, playing both to get the most out of them? I grinned whenever he came onto the scene and I name him my favourite male character.
My second favourite is Maximillian Pesaro. He at first casts himself in a dignified, serious Mr-Darcy-like figure. He gets off on the wrong foot with Victoria and disagrees with her marriage but they thankfully don’t let it hamper their professional relationship much. There are some little hints to an interesting backstory involving him and Lilith. I presume those details will unravel more in later books but, all the same, it’s a nice little piece of interest for now.
Now, onto the task of badly-written characters. Top of the list is Phillip Rockley, (to take a fitting phrase from the Nostalgia Critic) the book’s dumbass in distress. He only talks about marrying Victoria, being dismissive of other women and making sure that Victoria is completely aligned with his opinion of what a marchioness should be i.e. having sex with him a lot and producing an heir as quickly as possible. I wanted to throw up when he said he would ‘fix whatever needed to be fixed’ in Victoria and wanted to punch him when he talked about a night of ‘satisfactory lovemaking’ (just satisfactory?!). He would be bad enough if he just stayed at his stately home and been disapproving and one-dimensional but he gets in the way of Victoria’s missions twice and makes himself a total liability. Really, if the author wanted to the readers to feel for Victoria being caught between two worlds (or even care when Phillip gets in trouble), she could have made her husband more appealing.
Next is Victoria’s mother, Lady Melisandre. She and her other friends seemed only to serve the purpose of being the classic high society ladies desperate to get their daughters good husbands. She’d be like Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice if she was only funny. As it is, she serves as a plot device to pull Victoria in different directions and tell the readers about background murders over afternoon tea with her friends but it feels very forced and all those scenes really do is make me hungry with all those descriptions of cake.
The last badly written character I’ll mention is Lilith. She’s the Big Bad and a big disappointment. She’d been built up as a mighty queen of vampires that would stop at nothing to get the McGuffin and achieve world domination. Yep, total walking cliché. When we finally see her, she doesn’t bring anything interesting other than her previous acquaintance with Max and remains a total pantomime villain, making obviously false promises and telling the heroes all about her plans, right to the end.
A mixed bag but I think the good balances out the bad in this case
5 out of 10 drops
The author has set her book in Regency England but, to be honest, it would have been better if she had set it in Victorian England due to a lot of scattered factual inaccuracies. Time to get out the nit comb.
First, it mentions Big Ben chiming the time but Big Ben didn’t chime until 1859. Second, there are several (and rather unnecessary) afternoon tea scenes. Unfortunately, afternoon tea wasn’t created until 1840 and didn’t become an established meal in every respectable household that warranted friends being invited in their best gowns until the 1880s. Not to mention, the cakes, though deliciously described, would not have graced Regency tables. Cakes and biscuits didn’t get more interesting than a jam tart in those days. Last of the nitpicks, Victoria wasn’t a very popular name in Regency England and didn’t become so until Queen Victoria came to the throne. Neither did wearing white to weddings. I suppose the name can be explained away by her Italian heritage but I don’t know whether that was popular either. I know the name Melisandre was certainly not popular at the time nor even Italian.
As for the locations, we have a little more accuracy. St Giles (though it went by ‘St Giles in the Fields’ then) is apparently where lots of vampires (and the vampire-friendly tavern where most of the main action takes places) are found. It was one of the poorest and most overcrowded parts in London at the time. It was where criminals were buried after being hung at Tyburn and, if most the vampires rose from that graveyard, it fits nicely with the old myth that criminals and sinful people instantly become vampires upon death. One last little piece of interesting information worth noting is that there was a large Irish population living there (and it’s safe to assume Verbena is Irish by her accent) and, because of this, common nicknames for it were ‘Little Ireland’ and ‘the Holy Land’. There’s irony.
As for the vampires themselves, I’m afraid I can’t detect much research in vampire mythology at all. Yes, it mentions Polidori in passing but, apart from that, the vampire lore of the book follows the image Dracula set of vampires being unholy demons with Biblical origins. In this case, the vampires are connected with Judas and his daughter, Lilith (who features more prominently in Jewish rather than Christian text and is not Judas’ daughter). The McGuffin, the Book of Antwartha, seems to be an original creation of the author with inspiration taken from Hindu mythology, though I don’t think it’s appropriately applied here. The author used and altered the story of Kali to include a son named Antwartha who wrote the eponymous book, which is supposed to contain dark knowledge and spells (though, sadly, they are never reliably revealed in the book). Kali is historically one of the most misunderstood goddesses for, though she is a goddess of death, she is not evil. While that is acknowledged in the book, connecting her with an evil demon and an evil object is not helpful.
I think the author saved all her research for the dresses but, when she describes them, it’s a classic case of the author letting the desire to show off their knowledge overcome the need to tell the story. It got tedious very quickly. Unless you’re showing the making of a lovely dress or you’re selling it to me, lengthy descriptions like this are not welcome.
I’m afraid there’s not much evidence to good research done for this book, which is always disappointing in a book set in the past
3 out of 10 drops
This is where The Rest Falls Away really, ah, falls down. It started out promising. Victoria’s first hunt surprised us when, out of a couple, it turned out that the woman was the vampire, giving both her and the reader a surprise. The next hunt, it turned out that both man and woman were vampires. But, from there on in, all real originality dried up.
The vampires, for a start, are little more than mindless drones that live to feed their bloodlust and to obey their queen, Lilith. Their mythology also followed the classic mythology of vampires as unholy demons defeated by the power of religious objects. The author tried to add a bit of originality by adding a hierarchy within vampire society (and allowing only one kind of vampire to make other vampires) and making Judas the first vampire as punishment for his betrayal. This leads to the addition of a vulnerability to silver among the roster of other classic vampire characteristics.
The fear of the wooden stake turns into a vulnerability to wood in general. There’s an interesting comparison between Venator and vampire weapons connected to this in the middle of the book, stating that wood is ‘holy strength’ and steel is ‘inhuman might’. An intriguing way of explaining it. As is the book’s take on the invitation rule, which is widened slightly to include a servant being ‘invited’ inside to deliver something for a party. It made me think just how many people we unwittingly ‘invite’ into our homes e.g. builders, couriers, people from the gas board, e.t.c, and it’s an almost scary thought.
Sadly, these two elements is the only piece of originality the author adds to vampire mythology and the storyline is as formulaic as they come: girl is named by a prophecy as the one who will beat the Big Bad, realises her destiny, gets a tool that will make her stronger (a navel piercing whose name, by the way, is Latin for ‘strength stud’), her romantic interest is pulled between two men (I think we’re all tired of that now) and is eventually confronted by the Big Bad who is after a powerful McGuffin that will enable world domination. And, if Victoria’s loved ones happen to witness her actions, the knowledge is hypnotised out of them. I hate it when authors do that. Hypnotism realistically can’t be used that way and it’s a total narrative cop-out.
So, I’m sorry to say that, after a promising beginning, the book is just one tiresome cliche after another.
3 out of 10 drops
Historical inaccuracies aside, the world the author creates of balls, theatre, mothers obsessed with marrying off their daughters, afternoon tea and dark, grimy slums. I know what you’re thinking: the classic vision of Regency England, right out of a novel. And not a very detailed one either. The narrative pays a lot of attention to the dresses and not much to anything else. But, the normal world is only window-dressing for the more important things: the vampires and their hunters, the Venators.
Their history is established pretty early and the author seems to want to hurry it out of the way so she can get down to the present action. Quite understandable but it does leave a lot of questioned unanswered. The lore of the Venators is steeped in Christian imagery, namely Catholic with Latin chants and holy water involved. No Latin chants are written and, if the author doesn’t know Latin, that’s fair enough but it would have been interesting to know what they were saying. I would have also liked a bit more detail on Victoria’s training. I think just a month is way too short a time to become a master in combat. A few years would have been more realistic and would have been feasible as her society debut was delayed several times by glossed-over bereavements.
What is established is the idea that power can be saved up in Venators by simply skipping a generation. Victoria is so strong and capable because both her mother and uncle declined to become Venators and had all knowledge of vampires wiped from their minds. You have to wonder why they didn’t deliberately skip over a few generations to save up enough strength for the purpose of defeating Lilith without giving the skipped generations a chance to hunt. It would be a good twist if that was the case and darken Eustasia’s morals to a nice grey but, as it is, it feels like a contrived coincidence.
The one really interesting part of the world the author builds is the Silver Chalice, a middle ground where humans and vampires can drink and be merry without fear of harassment from either side. Again, there’s frustratingly little detail, especially when I find it so fascinating. How did Sebastian manage such a truce? What were his motives? Is this an isolated case or are their other neutral grounds in the city? Is it a sign of hope for harmony between human and vampire that the Venators are blatantly ignoring in favour of their entrenched ideals? It doesn’t look like we’ll ever find out but, my God, I want to know!
World-building was clearly not a priority for the author and the opportunity to create an intriguing, complicated world was missed in favour of romantic tension and nosferatu-staking.
3 out of 10 drops
The story does not have a very promising start. At first, the prologue drops the reader in the middle of an intense chase scene but then Victoria wakes up and it was all a dream. Very disappointing and that sums up the book really. A great premise that ends in disappointment at the wasted potential.
The story is Victoria’s but other voices have their say as well. Maximillian, Phillip, Eustasia and Lady Melisandre have their voices heard but, in the case of Phillip and Lady Melisandre, it’s not very welcome. I rolled my eyes whenever I came across these scenes. They could easily have been deleted and, if the author wanted to give exposition about background events (like she did during the afternoon tea scenes), I feel that it would have worked better if it was Verbena and the other servants talking about it. We could have a bit more character development from Verbena that way. Speaking of Verbena, it’s great that the main character has a female friend who’s a worthy companion in vampire hunting and a female mentor in the form of Eustacia. Not so great to see the female vampires as nothing but lust-driven she-devils with the exception of one walk-on role.
Most of the emotional drama stems from Victoria hiding what she is from her family and her new husband. A very common dramatic device. So common that it’s tiresome. We all know from the start that it won’t end well but, with Phillip’s one-dimensional characterisation, I’m not sorry it does. The romance needed to be put out of its misery quick. It started with a contrived cliché (Victoria and Phillip meeting in childhood and falling in love as adults) and, though difficulties come up, the solutions are far too quick and convenient. One more thing: the word ‘thirst’ kept coming up in Phillip and Victoria’s courtship. At best, it’s obvious foreshadowing. At worst, it’s creepy.
But, it doesn’t feel like the author wants to focus on those too much. She wants to steam ahead to the vampire-hunting action and the more interesting male characters: Max and Sebastian. The fights are done well and I hope blinding vampires with stakes to the eye becomes Victoria’s signature move. We do see Victoria get better with time but she still feels a bit too overpowered for someone who had only been in training for a month.
In contrast, the vampires seem a little toothless for most of the book. All we see of them is draining people dry which, though unpleasant, is a fairly tidy death. The gruesome deaths in the first three quarters of the book are only described second-hand from gossip and thus don’t have much of an effect. It’s only in a confrontation at a gentlemen’s club that we get some good guts and gore. I know the book isn’t a horror story but, for the sake of instilling how serious the threat is, it would have been good to witness something horrible happening earlier in the book. Or, at least, to have so many gruesome events happening off-screen that the on-screen characters are properly terrified instead of unconcerned.
The story switches back and forth between ‘normal life’ and vampire hunting to show Victoria being torn between the two but, sadly, you can skip the ‘normal life’ segments and not miss much. The book follows the to-and-fro formula of Victoria acting as normal as she can before rushing off to save the world before bedtime until Phillip’s idiocy kicks her into the final confrontation. Said confrontation doesn’t feel very satisfying either as Lilith is a big anti-climax and is just setting the scene for the sequel.
The world had potential and Victoria, Verbena, Max and Sebastian could be a great team but they’re stuck in a cliché plot and a fight with a pantomime villain
3 out of 10 drops
This is one of the all too common books in the vampire subgenre that get my hopes up with a few good characters and a lot of good potential. Almost none of that potential is realised. The Big Bad turns out to be nothing but a one-dimensional succubus with plans for world domination. The love interest is someone I would rather strangle than smooch. There is a very noticeable absence of blood or any kind of genuine threat from the villains and the vampires are just mindless creatures of appetite. The author claims that she based a lot of this on Buffy the Vampire Slayer which (shock horror) I have never watched so I don’t know if she did a good job. I do know that the ‘normal world’ is very underdeveloped and badly researched. The author makes a valiant effort to develop Victoria by throwing her loved ones into danger but, as I can’t even like some of her loved ones, it doesn’t have an effect and that’s an overused tactic anyway.
Would I read the rest of the series? If it was a lot better than the first book, yes. If not, then this can be left on the shelf.
17 out of 50 drops = A Positive