Sunday, May 15, 2016

Renfield, Slave of Dracula

Barbara Hambly, author of the historical vampire tale THOSE WHO HUNT THE NIGHT and several sequels, also wrote a stand-alone vampire novel, RENFIELD, SLAVE OF DRACULA (2006). As the title implies, it retells the events of DRACULA mainly from Renfield's viewpoint. It begins on a night, shortly after his commitment to the asylum, when he escapes and runs toward Carfax Abbey during a dinner party given by Dr. Seward for Lucy Westenra and her mother. The story is told partly through letters and journals, mainly Renfield's diary, and partly in third-person narrative passages largely focused on Renfield and Seward. As in Stoker's novel, Seward comes across as an intelligent, introspective man. He strives to apply modern, humane practices for treating patients, in opposition to the harsh methods advocated by his subordinates at the asylum. We also get fresh perspectives on other characters in DRACULA, such as Mina. But the major emphasis, of course, centers on Renfield's background, his deeply troubled mind, and Dracula's seduction of him. His mental bond with the vampire causes him to experience fragments of the other characters' lives in dreams, which allow the reader to glimpse events from the original novel outside Renfield's direct experience.

In Hambly's retelling, Renfield becomes a former merchant who spent many years in India, where exposure to exotic cultures and strange phenomena has left him open to the supernatural. While he lies helpless in the asylum, his mother-in-law and sister-in-law search for his wife and daughter, who have apparently gone into hiding. His fervent wish to reunite with his family drives his quest for power through the consumption of life-force. Soon enough, though, he realizes the danger of relying on the Count for help or protection. Further complications ensue, behind the scenes of Stoker's narrative. Hambly ingeniously weaves in these new plot elements in ways that never violate the "facts" as presented in the original, occasionally incorporating verbatim passages from DRACULA (conscientiously identified as such). The result is a thoughtful and highly polished variation on the familiar story, with a sympathetic, believable exploration of the title character. The author has plenty of room to work, since in the classic novel Renfield remains enigmatic. On film, although usually seen as pitiable, he has been portrayed as little more than the Count's minion, either a minor villain or comic relief.

For fans of Hambly's THOSE WHO HUNT THE NIGHT: She offers several short pieces in her various fictional universes, including her vampire series. "Sunrise on Running Water," a spinoff from those novels, takes place on board the Titanic:

Sunrise on Running Water

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Tomorrow Sucks

The anthology TOMORROW SUCKS (1994), edited by Greg Cox and T. K. F. Weisskopf, showcases science-fiction vampire tales. Some are vintage stories familiar to devoted fans; most have more recent publication dates. Weisskopf concludes the book with a short essay, "An Anthropological Approach to Vampirism." Disclosure: This volume includes "Vanishing Breed, by my husband, Leslie Roy Carter (first published in my CURSE OF THE UNDEAD, 1970); it's the earliest story I'm aware of to propose that Earth's vampires originated on a different planet, and it inspired my vampires-as-other-species series. If you're curious, you can find the titles of novels and stories in this fictional universe here:

Vanishing Breed Vampire Universe

The rest of the contents: "Pillar of Fire," by Ray Bradbury; a twentieth-century man rises to undead life in the distant future. "And Not Quite Human," by Joe L. Hensley, another older story; an alien invasion force conquers Earth, and the action takes place on a starship carrying Terran "specimens" who turn out to be far from ordinary. "The Man Who Loved the Vampire Lady," by Brian Stableford; in an alternate-history seventeenth-century Europe, the world is ruled by vampires whose condition arises from an infectious disease, which the protagonist studies in an attempt to find a weapon against the vampire overlords. "Born Again," by S. N. Dyer; another story in which vampirism is caused by a microorganism. "Kaeti's Nights," by Keith Roberts; a father narrates what happens when his supposedly dead daughter comes home on regular visits and sets him straight about the truth versus the myths of vampirism; "Pyotr's Story," by Spider Robinson; a "Callahan's Bar" episode about friendly vampire Pyotr, a member of another species, who filters blood rather than literally drinking it and incidentally prevents his donors from developing hangovers after heavy imbibing. "Fleas," by Dean Ing; vampires defined as parasites and subject to predation by creatures still higher on the food chain. "Leechcraft," by Susan Petrey; members of Petrey's vampire species, the Varkela, roam the Russian steppes and trade their healing and horse-trading gifts for blood, and in this story, a Varkela man time-travels from the nineteenth century into the present and falls in love with a modern woman. "Shambleau," by C. L. Moore, the oldest item in the book; interplanetary adventurer Northwest Smith falls victim to a shapechanging predator in the seductive guise of an exotic alien girl, although her true form is a Medusa-like "writhing scarlet horror." "The Stainless Steel Leech," by Roger Zelazny; in the far future, a vampiric "werebot" becomes friends with the last surviving traditional vampire.

TOMORROW SUCKS has a companion volume featuring science-fiction werewolves, TOMORROW BITES (1995).

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Live Girls

LIVE GIRLS (1987), by Ray Garton, is a far cry from the romantic "good guy vampire" fiction that began to flourish during the 1980s. After a grim prologue featuring the kind of character a reviewer for the Innsmouth Free Press website calls "Doomed Teaser Guy," we meet unfortunate New Yorker Davey Owen. His girlfriend has just left him after yet another argument about his low-level job at a small publishing company. Meanwhile, Walter Benedek, Doomed Teaser Guy's brother-in-law, drops in at his sister's home and finds a gory crime scene. The imagery of these opening scenes sets the tone for the book with tawdry, trash-strewn streets, gloomy weather, and the horrific slaughter of Walter's sister.

Wandering the city, mired in depression, Davey stumbles upon a sex club in Times Square called Live Girls (which we glimpsed in the prologue). There he has an encounter that leaves him drained in more ways than one, although he doesn't realize the true nature of the "smeared lipstick" he notices on the girl's mouth afterward. Any reader halfway attentive to the blurb and cover illustration, of course, knows the title of the novel (and the club) is ironic; the "live girls" are undead. After losing his job later that day, Davey returns to Live Girls for a second time, despite the blood he'd noticed in an intimate location after the first visit. Although he has no idea what's happening yet, the erotic addiction of a vampire's feeding is obvious to the reader. At the same time, Walter Benedek, determined to find out what became of his missing brother-in-law, starts watching Live Girls and notices Davey's repeated visits.

Irresistibly drawn to Live Girls, Davey becomes involved with Anya, the woman he first encountered there. Amid the raw, blood-tinged sex, the reader immediately recognizes what she's doing to him, something he takes a while to figure out. His compulsive desire for Anya battles with the scruples inculcated by his fanatically religious mother. Walter approaches him on the pretext of an interview for an article and notices Davey seems ill, afflicted the same way Walter's brother-in-law was. Davey's female friend Casey also becomes concerned about his health and gets involved. Together investigating Live Girls and its sister establishment, the Midnight Club, they realize actual, supernatural vampires lurk there.

LIVE GIRLS will appeal to hard-core horror fans. Especially frightful are the grotesque, yet pitiable creatures whose transformations have gone wrong. Although this isn't primarily a sympathetic vampire novel, neither does it fall under the "all vampires are evil, destroy on sight" trope of classic horror. The undead antagonists are balanced by two characters—Davey and Casey—being transformed into vampires against their will. The good guys triumph, sort of, but only at great cost.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Off the Beaten Orbit

OFF THE BEATEN ORBIT (1961; first published as GALAXY OF GHOULS, 1955), compiled by distinguished SF writer and editor Judith Merril, isn't a vampire anthology as such. But it does include three vintage vampire tales (two being a couple of my all-time favorites), plus two other stories with some vampire content. It also features two werewolf pieces. This anthology holds a special place in my heart. I first heard of it from my high school boyfriend, who described some of the contents to me but never got around to lending me the book. I'd given up on ever actually seeing the elusive paperback when I stumbled upon it in a used book shop, long before Internet searches existed. (There are several copies available on Amazon at present.)

One vampire story, "Share Alike," by Jerome Bixby and Joe E. Dean, delves into one of my favorite tropes, vampires as a naturally evolved species. It centers on a symbiotic relationship between a vampire and a human sailor, the only survivors of a shipwreck, adrift in a lifeboat. Ray Bradbury's classic "Homecoming" explores the plight of an ordinary mortal born into a family of fairly benign "monsters." (They get their blood supply from a funeral home where some of their members work.) I've always been fascinated by Bradbury's portrayal of the "monsters" as normal and their human son as a mutant (long before THE ADDAMS FAMILY and THE MUNSTERS). In "Blood," one of Fredric Brown's trademark short-shorts (what's called flash fiction nowadays), a vampire couple flees in a time machine to the distant future to seek an era when humanity will have forgotten about their kind, with a disastrous and funny outcome.

In Bruce Elliott's unique werewolf story "Wolves Don't Cry," a zoo wolf wakes up one morning as a man, a change he finds deeply disturbing. In "The Ambassadors," by Anthony Boucher, Mars turns out to be inhabited by intelligent wolves, and the werewolves of Earth become interplanetary mediators. There's a vampire allusion at the end of the story.

Some other outstanding pieces include "A Way of Thinking," by Theodore Sturgeon, featuring an odd variation on a voodoo doll; an early "John the Balladeer" tale by Manly Wade Wellman, "O Ugly Bird!"; and "Triflin' Man," by Walter M. Miller, whose backwoods heroine deals decisively with an alien (advance scout for an invasion) who left her with a half-human baby after a one-night stand. Creatures such as mermaids, demons, and doppelgangers also populate the anthology.

The book ends fittingly with "Mop-Up," by Arthur Porges, in which the last man on Earth after a nuclear holocaust encounters a vampire, a ghoul, and a witch.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Vampire Encyclopedia

If you're looking for a wide-ranging, informal yet informative guide to vampires both folkloric and fictional, pick up Matthew Bunson's THE VAMPIRE ENCYCLOPEDIA (1993). (Many bargain-priced used copies of this trade paperback are available.)

Entries include authors, books and short story titles, historical figures, countries and cultures, many varieties of vampires, items harmful or lethal to the undead, animals associated with vampires, and a sprinkling of miscellaneous terms such as "Art," "Plague," "Red Hair," "Satan," etc. A reader can dip into this compendium on any page and be sure to find an entertaining bit of lore.

The lists scattered throughout the volume constitute my favorite feature: Methods of detecting vampires, protecting against them, destroying them, and preventing vampirism in the first place; how someone becomes a vampire; historical "vampire" serial killers; vampire-related plays, poetry, films, and prose literature. There's no table of contents, though, so the reader has to stumble on these resources by leafing through the book.

Bunson made some puzzling choices. For instance, there's no apparent pattern in how he decided which fictional works get separate entries from their authors' names and which don't. For instance, THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY, by Suzy McKee Charnas, rates entries for not only author and title but the protagonist, Dr. Weyland, as well. As much as I love Charnas's modern classic, it's strange to see it treated this way when several more high-profile books aren't. Many different countries and ethnic groups are referenced, but some with essays several paragraphs long and others merely with cross-references to related terms. And at some points Bunson's alphabetizing is downright bizarre. "La Llorona" appears under "La," yet the novel LA BAS is listed as "Bas, La," as if he mistook the adverb for an article. Still, these quirks don't significantly interfere with the enjoyment and utility of the book.

THE VAMPIRE ENCYCLOPEDIA includes an eleven-page bibliography divided into short stories, novels, and nonfiction references. The list of vampire organizations at the end, of course, has mainly historical appeal, although the venerable "Vampires Are Us" (aka the Count Dracula Fan Club) still operates at the same address.

In contrast, J. Gordon Melton's THE VAMPIRE BOOK: THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE UNDEAD, now in its third edition, is a weightier tome with longer, more detailed, updated entries and a more extensive bibliography. Both of these guidebooks are useful and entertaining, and since their subject matter doesn't completely overlap, they would complement each other as additions to a vampire enthusiast's library.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sacrament

If you haven't read any of Susan Squires' "Companion" series, try the first book, SACRAMENT (2002). You can find a complete list of the Companion novels and novellas here:

Susan Squires Companion Index

This novel combines Regency fiction with Gothic horror, two genres that can be blended effectively, as illustrated by Jane Austen's NORTHANGER ABBEY. Like a typical Regency romance, SACRAMENT features a plucky heroine in trouble, an egoistic rival beauty, an arrogant but magnetic hero, and the select society of the ton. On the Gothic side, it includes vampirism, archaeology, forbidden medical experimentation, imprisonment, torture, sinister monks, and ancient secrets. The action ranges over a wide variety of settings, such as London, Bath, Vienna, and the exotic remoteness of the Carpathian Mountains. Sarah, alone in the world aside from a would-be fiance for whom she has only lukewarm feelings, faces the risk of losing her family estate to enigmatic aristocrat Julien Davinoff. Her desperate attempt to save her inheritance leads to unexpected revelations about why Davinoff wants her land; a vampire of extraordinary age, he uses the tunnels beneath the ruins on Sarah's estate as a cache for the priceless souvenirs of his very long life. Sarah learns the truth about Davinoff when she becomes entangled in her alleged friend Corina's campaign to win his love. When Corina's seduction fails, she imprisons him in her cellar and forcibly addicts him to laudanum. Sarah rescues him, although she suspects him of perpetrating a series of vampiric murders. She uses her up-to-date knowledge of medicine (gleaned from her physician suitor) to break the addiction and uncovers his secret. Realistically, she gets her image of vampires from Dr. John Polidori's scandalous tale, "The Vampyre." She feeds Davinoff her blood to save his life anyway, and he reveals to her the true, non-supernatural origin of his vampirism. His yearning to make her his eternal mate by transforming her yields to his nobler impulses, and he flees from the temptation. Sequestered in a secret vampire monastery in the Carpathians, he takes the Vow that will separate him forever from human society. Sarah pursues him into the wilds of Eastern Europe, where she fights for her love in a confrontation with the eldest of all vampires.

SACRAMENT offers an unusual variation on vampirism as an infection. The Companion is a symbiotic organism inhabiting a well on the grounds of the monastery. A parasite that lives on red blood cells, it bestows long life, regeneration, and rapid healing on its host. The host can also exercise certain extraordinary powers—e.g. mental influence, limited teleportation—by focusing the energy provided by the Companion. A vampire needs to ingest blood to nourish the Companion and becomes sensitive to (but not destroyed by) sunlight. A prospective vampire can be transformed by drinking the blood of an existing one—or by drinking the infected water from the well, but then he or she must have vampire blood in order to change rather than die. Squires convincingly frames this information in terms plausible for the characters' understanding in the context of nineteenth-century science. The reader can sympathize with Davinoff's conflict between his love for Sarah and his loyalty to the rigid laws that, he believes, provide the only ethical way of life for his kind. Sarah is a strong heroine who grows in self-knowledge and self-confidence throughout the story, until she attains the capacity to ignore the strictures of her society when they stand in the way of winning love. Davinoff does have an annoying tendency to fall into the "eternally cursed" mindset of the all-too-typical brooding vampires of many romances, but he gets over it. SACRAMENT and the other works in this series offer fans a fresh angle on the familiar tropes of the genre.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Secret of the Pale Lover

Before I first read SECRET OF THE PALE LOVER (1969) by Clarissa Ross, a friend described it to me as a book in which the heroine marries a vampire without realizing it—a fairly accurate summary. This is a fun read for anyone who enjoyed the Gothic romances of the sixties. Like just about every one of those paperbacks, SECRET OF THE PALE LOVER has a cover illustration of a terrified young woman running by night from a scary old house—in this case, a castle in France, labeled in the tagline "a satanic chateau."

Eve Lewis, a student of the occult and witchcraft legends visiting Paris, meets Count Henri Langlais, a charismatic aristocrat with "hypnotic eyes." He tells her about his nephew Leonard, who suffers from a mysterious chronic affliction of the blood. Count Henri attributes the hereditary "weakness" to an ancestral curse. It turns out that the Count and his nephew frequent the same seaside resort Eve plans to visit next. A male friend who would like to become more than that persistently warns her against the trusting the Count. Nightmares begin to plague her, including dreams of the Count presiding at a Black Mass. Her research uncovers legends of witchcraft and vampirism in the town of Langlais. Still, after spending time with the Count and his nephew at the resort, Eve becomes attracted to Leonard. It's obvious that the Count is matchmaking between the two young people. When Leonard and his uncle vanish with no notice or farewell, she's deeply hurt, until she receives a letter inviting her for an extended visit at their chateau. With the letter comes a cameo pendant; a spider hidden in it bites her. She buys a remedy at a strange little shop that, when she tries to find it again, has allegedly been abandoned for years. In short, she endures a sequence of sinister events foreshadowing horrors that may or may not lurk at the chateau. Once at the Langlais estate, she encounters the kinds of eerie phenomena one expects to find in a Gothic novel. Her suspicion that the Count belongs to a satanist cult proves correct. As is typical of such novels, she wrestles with ambivalent feelings toward her charming but enigmatic would-be suitor.

When Eve learns that the young man she originally began to care for at the resort was not Leonard, but an actor hired by the Count to impersonate his sickly nephew and draw her into a romantic attachment, she's plunged into the conflict that builds to the novel's climax. She and the actor, David, fall in love and confront the Count, who confesses the truth about Leonard. Count Henri seems remorseful over the deception and acts with incredible generosity toward the couple. As Eve gets swept along in his plans, it's obvious to the reader that she's being gaslighted (with, it's hinted, the aid of drugs). This novel isn't precisely a vampire romance, even though the heroine succumbs to a vampire's allure for a while, and whether it has a happy ending depends on one's point of view. Ambiguity (for the heroine if not the reader) and creeping fear haunt the story to the final page.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Single White Vampire

SINGLE WHITE VAMPIRE (2003), the earliest published (but not the first written) novel in Lynsay Sands's Argeneau family series, may not quite count as "vintage," since the series is still going strong, with one or two new books every year. SINGLE WHITE VAMPIRE is over ten years old, however, and deserves the attention of paranormal romance fans who might have missed it. It's the funniest vampire romantic comedy I've ever read.

Reclusive Lucien Argeneau has become famous for his bestselling paranormal romance "fiction"—actually straightforward narratives derived from his family's history. Kate Leever, a new romance editor for his publisher, faces the challenge of persuading the author to participate in publicity for his work. He has no interest in book tours or anything else that would require leaving home. When he doesn't answer her letters (in fact, he hasn't even opened his mail in weeks), Kate arrives at his house, luggage in hand. Disgruntled by her intrusion, Lucien can't get rid of her despite his best efforts. "In his experience, people were a bother and never failed to bring chaos with them. Women especially." Kate becomes acquainted with his family, including his matchmaking mother, Marguerite. Naturally mutual attraction seizes them, regardless of Kate's puzzlement at Lucien's odd behavior and his resistance to getting involved with any woman. Eventually she maneuvers him into attending the Romantic Times convention, and hilarity ensues. The scenes at the con will be especially entertaining for writers.

Humor, sensual love scenes, and a touch of suspense keep the novel un-put-downable. Of course in the end Lucien acknowledges Kate as his life mate. This story provides a smooth introduction to the premise of the series—that the Argeneau clan originated in lost Atlantis, where they perfected submicroscopic "nanos" that circulate in the bloodstream to keep their hosts perfectly healthy, fast-healing, eternally youthful, and immortal. They can also read and control minds (but not the minds of their life mates). Because the nanos consume blood in performing their functions, immortals—the label they prefer to "vampires"—have to ingest blood frequently. They avoid unnecessary exposure to sunlight because the nanos work overtime to repair sun damage, requiring the host to drink more blood than usual. In the modern era, they supply their needs with bagged blood, never drinking from live victims except in emergencies. They can also eat ordinary food and engage in normal sex, which is especially intense between life mates. They deliberately keep their numbers low with restrictions on child-bearing and transformation of others into immortals.

My only minor complaint about these books is the virtually total absence of the link between blood-sharing and sexuality that, for me, forms a major appeal of the vampire archetype. Often the need for blood remains so much a routine part of the background that the Argeneau family might as well be immortals from the HIGHLANDER universe. But it's one of my favorite vampire series anyway.

It's interesting to contrast the current covers of the book with the original. Here are the two presently displayed on Amazon, both of them making the story look darker than it really is:

This third image is the cover of the original paperback from 2003, light and fluffy, emphasizing the romantic comedy dimension of the story. Personally, I like this one best. The recent covers strike me as too generic as well as too dark; they don't offer anything to distinguish this book from any other vampire romance on the shelves.

The 2003 blurb matches the tone of the cover, playing up the comedy as well as making Lucien sound like a traditional vampire rather than an SF creature. It even mentions "religious symbols," which of course have no effect on Argeneau immortals. In short, it appears that the publisher wasn't sure what to do with this innovative approach to vampires and tried to make the first book look and sound as much as possible like something readers would find familiar.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Blood Is Not Enough

Ellen Datlow's earliest vampire anthology, BLOOD IS NOT ENOUGH (1989), contains both reprints and new stories written for this book. As implied by the title, the anthology emphasizes not-so-ordinary stalkers of the night. Datlow introduces us to energy vampires and inhuman predators as well as more traditional vampires in unique situations.

The oldest tale in BLOOD IS NOT ENOUGH, "Lazarus," by Leonid Andreyev (published in the early 1900s), envisions the title character, after his rising from the tomb, as more undead than alive, casting a blight on everyone he meets. Datlow includes one familiar modern classic, "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes," by Fritz Leiber. The girl of the title, a mysterious model whose ad photos fascinate the public, drains life from her victims by feeding on their emotions. She may be the first literary example of vampirism as a metaphor for mass media. After Leiber's, the next-oldest story in the volume is "Try a Dull Knife," an urban horror piece by Harlan Ellison. All the other contents come from the 1980s. One of my favorites, "The Sea Was Wet as Wet Could Be," by artist Gahan Wilson, re-imagines "The Walrus and the Carpenter." The drolly grotesque beach-strolling characters from the Alice novel become a pair of humanoid aliens (as far as the reader can determine what they are) who entrap and feed on their human victims like Lewis Carroll's Walrus and Carpenter eating oysters. "Down Among the Dead Men," by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann, places a traditional vampire in a Nazi concentration camp, where his predation goes almost unnoticed amid the non-supernatural horrors surrounding him. "Carrion Comfort," by Dan Simmons, was later expanded into his horrific psychic vampire novel of the same title.

The newly written stories include works by Tanith Lee, Joe Haldeman, Pat Cadigan, Steve Rasnic Tem, and other distinguished names in speculative fiction. "L'Chaim!" by Harvey Jacobs introduces us to a club whose vampire members carefully cultivate human proteges over the long term to create special "vintages" for important occasions. "Good Kids," by Edward Bryant, explores energy draining from an unusual angle. "The Silver Collar," by Garry Kilworth, which Datlow describes as the "most traditional" tale in the book, frames a supernatural vampire lover in a Gothic setting.

Except for "Lazarus," each story is followed by a paragraph or two from the author, giving the reader insights on the story's origin and inspiration. Ellison's afterword runs for several pages, an essay in its own right.

Datlow's follow-up anthology, A WHISPER OF BLOOD (1991), fulfills its title's implications by ranging even further from the undead bloodsuckers of legend. Although packed with brilliant stories by big names in the horror field, it includes a few pieces that I wouldn't classify as vampiric even by my own very elastic standards. My favorite in this volume, the wryly humorous "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" by Suzy McKee Charnas, almost traditional compared to most of the others, stars a Jewish grandmother who refuses to move on after death and instead lurks in spectral form in her old apartment, absorbing small amounts of blood to sustain herself. "Do I Dare to Eat a Peach?" by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, strikingly different from her classic Saint-Germain series, presents a hospitalized victim being drained of not only life-energy but memories. Additional contributors include Robert Silverberg, Barry N. Malzberg, Karl Edward Wagner, and Jonathan Carroll, among others. This book also includes authors' afterwords, and all but three of the stories are original to it.

Margaret L. Carter Carter's Crypt

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Prince of the Night

Jasmine Cresswell's PRINCE OF THE NIGHT (1995), set in Italy in the mid-1800s (with a prologue in 1836), has the surface appearance of a Gothic romance but morphs into (or reveals itself as) science fiction. The story centers upon Count Dakon, a member of a small group of extraterrestrials stranded on Earth, males who can breed with human females but always produce male offspring. In the prologue, he succumbs to his nearly irresistible mating compulsion with a servant girl chosen for her "unimaginative" personality, in hopes that she'll survive the experience. Even if a human woman isn't killed by her Vam-pyr mate's bloodlust, she is likely to die in childbirth. The girl in the prologue doesn't live past the first, frenzied copulation. Bitterly remorseful, Dakon vows never to mate again.

In 1859, English heroine Cordelia Hope (a symbolic name, since she represents hope for the redemption of Dakon and rejuvenation of his species) travels through Italy with her cousin, Lady Mary, to the Villa of the Three Fountains, an estate belonging to their family. Or so they believe, but everyone they meet insists the property belongs to the Count of Albion. When they arrive at the villa, they're informed that the Count never allows female visitors in his home. Naturally, they prevail upon Dakon to let them in, and of course he and Cordelia feel an instant attraction. Upon their first meeting, she has erotic, terrifying, multi-sensory telepathic visions that baffle her, although thanks to the prologue the reader has an inkling of the cause. She has always been preternaturally sensitive to others' emotions but has no idea why she reacts so strongly to Dakon. Struggling to resist the allure, she finds herself drawn to his bed as if in a trance. He displays his strong sense of ethics by rejecting the temptation to mate with her, even though she has catastrophically arrived at the very time of his periodic "cresting." Most of his fellow Vam-pyr regard killing inferior Earthlings on the same level as killing animals, a philosophy Dakon rejects. (The species has a sort of hokey name, but since linguists don't seem sure of the ultimate origins of the word "vampire," I can suspend disbelief enough to accept that it might come from an extraterrestrial source.) In addition, Dakon further proves his fundamental nobility by risking his life for his human neighbors as a covert freedom fighter in the Italian rebellion against the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

PRINCE OF THE NIGHT follows the general pattern of Gothic fiction, with Cordelia a reluctant guest at Dakon's estate, enmeshed in the mystery of the villa's reclusive lord while trying to disentangle the problem of his alleged ownership of the property she thought she'd inherited. As we'd expect, she proves uniquely suited to mate with Dakon because of her telepathic and empathic gift. He tries to stay away from her, despite the agony of resisting the mating drive. As their relationship develops, complications arise from Lady Mary's personal plight and Dakon's dangerous pretense of supporting the Austrians while actually leading the revolutionaries. Over halfway through the book, Cordelia learns that Dakon belongs to an extraterrestrial species, their numbers steadily decreasing since they were marooned on Earth four thousand years earlier. However, she doesn't fully believe him until the evidence becomes undeniable. Meanwhile, the captain of the local Austrian troops becomes convinced she is a spy. This novel abounds in suspense, sensuality, historical atmosphere, and an interesting variation on vampires as aliens.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt