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