Foreword: In September I have planned for only one book to be reviewed in several segments. For the weeks to come I will post every Thursday and Friday a review of three or four stories from the vampire anthology EVOLVE. The anthology consists of an all Canadian cast and its theme is to present the next step in the evolution of the vampire. I have divided the anthology in eight parts, one overall summary and at the end of the month I have prepared an interview with none other, but the editor, Nancy Kilpatrick herself. I have decided to grade each story to help me determine on average what I think of the anthology, so that I do not let the last stories taint my perception. Also at the end of each story I will ask the question whether vampires are portrayed as evolving or not. So, here we go.
Let the Night in by Sandra Kasturi
Based on an excerpt from P.K. Page, Autumn
I admit it’s an interesting way to start an anthology with a poem. In addition to the foreword, a poem can really set the mood and tone for what’s to come. While the foreword prepares the mind, the poem prepares the soul. It adjusts the reader to the right wavelength. Though to be honest, I am not the greatest authority on poetry. I have a deaf ear as far as inner rhythm goes and “Let the Night in” read like a vignette, formatted as a poem. Sadly, I think it’s all due to my personal deficiency.
Mechanical observations aside, we are treated to an image of the vampire as a social outcast, as the people, who do not belong in this world. The vampire, here, is neither a sex symbol, nor the monster, but the hermit, abiding a different nature. The poem is imbued with melancholy and longing towards a new destination. The vampire strives to discover an utopia, which is the awaited solution to the existential crisis.
Learning Curve by Kelley Armstrong: D
Kelley Armstrong is ranked as one of the best authors to follow, if you are looking for Urban Fantasy with a vampire aftertaste. I hadn’t had the opportunity to put this claim to the test, but I generally think that Armstrong represents everything that I don’t like in Urban Fantasy. This is a bit bold, because I’m basing an assumption on one short story, but even as an introduction I’m not thrilled.
Learning Curve is the story of Zoe, a vampire, who has a special relationship with trouble aka it keeps trailing behind her. This time Zoe’s being stalked and she is semi-annoyed and semi-enjoying the experience. For two weeks she’s been playing with the stalker, who turns out to be a clumsy Buffy wanna-be. Buffy wanna-be and Zoe meet in an anticlimactic battle, after Zoe actually saves the girl’s life from a human assailant. The story ends with Zoe letting Buffy v. 02 live on and that’s that. Exciting, no.
Fights mean releasing a part of me that I’m happier keeping leashed, muzzled.
This is the stereotypical Urban Fantasy heroine. Always in internal conflict with her instincts that whisper murder in her ear. She’s bad news and she knows it. Also, she is a vampire, from the smart-mouthed variety. Kick-ass. Strong. But we’re told of this. Zoe tells us and we’re far from being shown. I, for a change, want to be shown the contradictions, not read internalized monologues. How much conscious brooding can a century old immortal be allowed to do? I think that there need to be quotas.
Armstrong’s prose is flat and non-engaging. Sure, there are as many prose styles as there are authors and prose is subjective. My complaint’s that Armstrong does Urban Fantasy Writing 101. If you have read at least 20 or so Urban Fantasy novels, you will see some standardized expressions and a certain description model. Considering Armstrong’s position in the UF Hall of Fame, I think that she was one of the pioneers, so I may be holding a stupid grudge.
However, Zoe Takano does not make much sense as a character. Neither does the actual short. Learning Curve presents questions that should have met an answer. We know Zoe is spunky and sarcastic, but why did she shape like that? We know she is being chased, but we have no clue as to why she tolerates this? After all, she knows the stalker is a human, which shouldn’t pose a challenge for a vampire. What’s more baffling: Why does Zoe save her stalker, who aspires to be a pro vampire slayer? Yes, vampires are complex creatures, because they live for centuries and their logic is more likely to differ from ours. So, why not get a glimpse of what goes on inside that head?
Maybe Zoe wants to see, if a total clutz can slay her, after the necessary training. Maybe Zoe wants a pet. Maybe Zoe wants a lover… The motif is not revealed and without understanding, I couldn’t connect and identify with Zoe. The story remains too short and pointless and I have wasted my time with a story with no sense of purpose.
Perhaps, Armstrong exhibits a better set of skills in the novel format, but the spunky, kick-ass, sarcastic heroine routine isn’t for me anymore. I’ve read too many similar stories, which have been written better at that as well.
Is this an example of how vampires have evolved? Yes, in the sense that Zoe is very different from Dracula’s brides. No, in the sense that vampires like Zoe are nothing new to our culture. After all, Urban Fantasy rose to power with exactly this vampire.
Chrysalis by Ronald Hare: B+
Chrysalis introduces the reader to new-to-puberty Lucy. She is a girl with a dysfunctional family. Her mother Minnie is a mouse of a person [a nod to Disney] and her father only works the night shifts and is commanding person. The story follows Lucy through a routine day. The mandatory and uncomfortable family breakfast, then school. But along with the usual changes to pop around puberty, Lucy experiences some additional ones.
Ronald Hare’s prose rolls effortlessly on the page. It tingles the reader’s senses and adds its own flavor as the story progresses. It’s not mind-blowing, but definitely above average. There is a finely controlled balance between description and action. The pace never suffers and I am left a happy reader all the way.
At the beginning of the story, I didn’t like Lucy much. She seemed self-consumed in her own world, where her family’s constant moving dictated her emotions and thoughts. While this is justifiable, it didn’t hold my interest. Teenagers in general are hard to write, because what for someone seems plausible, for another is not a truth representation. Plus, I am from the readers that enjoy grown-up anti-hero characters rather than half-developed human beings. However, as the clues trickle as to what Lucy’s father really is [take a wild guess; you’re reading a vamp anthology] and Lucy’s own awakening to unusual talents begins, I was treated to a possibility for a new breed of vampires. Ones that have a special relationship with the sun.
Lucy reminded me of King’s Carrie. Her initiation in power begins with puberty. Plus, there is an inserted shower scene with her menstruation kicking in. Also like Carrie, Lucy exploits her powers. The difference here is that Lucy’s controlled, strong-willed and calculating. Traits Carrie did not possess.
Chrysalis ends as it should. Lucy has discovered her strength within and while I would have loved to see the confrontation scene between Lucy and her father, I gather it would have been anti-climatic. Lucy has been empowered and before her lie countless opportunities. Whatever she chose I would have followed.
Is this an evolved vampire? Considering the fact that the dhampir Lucy turns in, I would wager that yes, the vampire has evolved.
Mother of Miscreants by Jennifer Greylyn: B
What I liked about this story is bringing Lilith in play as a protagonist. In mythology, Lilith has been depicted as a demon from Jewish tales, as a succubus, as a demonic figure belonging to the night. Very rarely is her origin as Adam’s first wife mentioned. At least from my cultural background, this story is not very popular. It is why it brings me joy to see her as the first wife, who didn’t think she fit in Eden.
Connected to this, there is also a legend, which tells how Lilith has fallen from Grace and has become the very first vampire. To anger God she has devoted herself to transforming all of his children into hers. Mother of Miscreants presents Lilith as an accomplished cult author, who has published her memoir, which mortals misunderstand as fiction. Her purpose is to right all the wrongs she had allowed as a mother, who neglects her children.
The actual story takes place at a midnight signing, a simple conversation between mother and child. This conversation contains all the worldbuilding as in how Lilith was created, what the true nature of vampires is and [what I found most enjoyable] the insertion of Hollywood made myths and clichés along with a plausible explanation for their validity. I will remain silent on the details, because they make the story a satisfying read.
Apart from the concepts, did I enjoy this story? Did I think it has a purpose? After all, this is a conversation. No action, but a lot of explanations that act as exposition.
Well, Lilith comes off as an elder immortal would. There is a superiority, not unlike the type seen in aristocratic families, mixed with reserved motherly concern. Believable, yes. Though not relatable and therefore not entirely immersing.
Mother of Miscreants can be best described as a tiny fragment, randomly selected for closer observation. The conversation at the bookstore is neither Lilith’s first, nor will it be her last. What the reader can tell is that vampire society is in undergoing a transition, which is actually the theme of the anthology. In conclusion, yes, the vampire is evolving, by going back to its roots. Clever.