Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Virgintooth

If you'd like to read a strange small-press vampire novel with many points of interest despite its oddities and flaws, try VIRGINTOOTH (1991), by Mark Ivanhoe. (It's out of print, but cheap used copies are available.) As the title hints, it narrates the odyssey of a new vampire adjusting to her changed existence. From the fledgling's first awakening into undeath and her struggles with problems both esoteric and realistically down-to-earth, the story builds to an apocalyptic climax in which ancient vampires are revealed to have reality-warping powers on a godlike level.

The opening scene unfolds an unusual perspective on the transition to undeath: The protagonist, Elizabeth, awakens from death with no memory of her mortal life, not even her name. Her "Master," harsh and sometimes outright cruel, when he isn't being whimsically kind, drags her out of the grave. It transpires that vampires in this author's mythos "eat" the personalities of their victims. The Master chooses to return Elizabeth's memories and selfhood to her. Thus she becomes a conscious, free-willed being (at least within the limits of the Master's rule) instead of a zombie-like, savage "filthy animal." While these vampires can drink from animals, human blood is of course preferred, and in the technique of preying on humans the Master trains Elizabeth with brutal efficiency. Other interesting features: As a young vampire, she suffers pain in moonlight, for the logical reason that it's reflected sunlight. The undead can't control the element of water, so falling rain creates a "veil" that dulls their senses. Wind and snow can "shred" them unless they exert all their energy to maintain their physical forms. Later she finds that food is now tasteless as well as indigestible, and she can't see TV images because of the changes in her visual perception.

On the other end of the scale from Elizabeth and the barely sentient undead beneath even her, ancient vampires have the power to crush the Master, if they combine forces against him. Nevertheless, he bluntly refutes Elizabeth's image of the romantic glamour of vampirism. She is "a leech and the slave of a leech," compelled to hide from human society—until the advent of the eternal night the Master keeps hinting at. When a group of experienced vampires offers her the opportunity to escape the Master's grip, she enters upon a new phase of her existence and learns more about the mind-control, telekinetic, illusion, and transmutation powers of the undead. Realistically, however, when fledgling Elizabeth tries to exercise these powers, she makes a mess of her efforts. There's quiet horror in her growing estrangement from humanity, not only because of her bloodlust but in the realization that she can't even remember how long it's been since she became one of the undead. Still worse, she begins to wonder how much of a free-willed person she has been since then, rather than (as she fears) a puppet of commands planted "in the depth of her soul" by the Master. When she comes upon her mother at her (Elizabeth's) grave, Elizabeth's first impulse is to treat "the old woman" as prey. She reveals herself to her mother, who accepts her daughter's transformation with surprising aplomb. Elizabeth moves back home, and the typical parent-child frictions resume with the additional layer of vampire-mortal interaction. The scenes of Elizabeth's re-connection with her mother (and cats) comprise my favorite parts of the book. She also finds a lover, even though vampires are largely asexual.

Eventually, the Master's rants about extinguishing the sun prove to be more than idle boasts. Then things get really weird. For readers willing to suspend disbelief, the climactic confrontation between the Master and the vampires who oppose him provides a wild ride.

When VIRGINTOOTH was reviewed as a new release in my fanzine, THE VAMPIRE'S CRYPT, the reviewer mentioned the ridiculously over-inflated powers of the vampire elders, a criticism I agreed with. We received a letter from the editor or author to the effect that it should have been obvious the book was meant as a satire on a certain type of vampire novel popular at the time. Well, it wasn't obvious. The story didn't impress either the reviewer or me as the least bit funny; furthermore, parts of the book comprise a believable and emotionally engaging account of a young vampire's ordeal that is too convincing on its own terms to read as satire. If that's what the author truly intended, he erred in the direction of too much subtlety, because he didn't succeed for me.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

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