Heartwood 6:6 – Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

carmillaI don’t normally read to scare myself, boost my heart rate, or get a jolt of adrenaline, but this time of year I often find myself looking for something a little spooky, dark, or supernatural. This year, the 140-year-old novella Carmilla, one of the earliest vampire tales (predating Bram Stoker’s Dracula), delivered just the dose of gothic elegance I was after.

When a carriage crashes on the road near their Styrian castle, Laura, a young woman, and her father offer their assistance and find themselves taking temporary custody of the weakened Carmilla, a woman in appearance about Laura’s age, as her mother has urgent business she must attend to farther down the road. Laura is thrilled to have found a female companion, and they form a remarkably quick and somewhat seductive intimacy. But early intimations that all is not quite right with the languid guest, who only emerges from her room late in the afternoon, grow more serious when Laura too begins to experience a similar loss in vigor and vitality.

The story moves along quite quickly and is told in an appealingly antiquated style with calm deliberateness and economy (though it does include a bit of unneeded repetition while also leaving a number of things unexplained). What I liked best about the book was Carmilla’s mysterious way of talking about being together forever with Laura, the significance of dreams, and the dreamlike ways in which the vampire would strike. Additionally, avid readers will be happy to see that book learning plays a large role in eventually putting the vampire (and story) to rest.

Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone

warlock holmes a study in brimstone by denning

Oh em gee, this cover is gorgeous! Here’s another straight-up book review all thanks to the power of advance reader copies from our publishers. Thanks, publishers!

Let me just start this review by saying that Warlock Holmes: a Study in Brimstone by G.S. Denning is one of those books that Sherlockians will either love or hate. Spoiler alert: I completely loved it!

Our story begins in a way that will seem familiar to most Sherlock fans: Watson is back in London after being injured during the war in Afghanistan and is desperate to find a place to live. Through a chance meeting with one of his old connections he learns about a man who needs a roommate. His name is Warlock Holmes and he is a consulting detective who sometimes works with Scotland Yard. Thus the literary world is gifted with another first meeting of Watson and Holmes.

Things start out pretty normal for Dr. John Watson. He feels lucky to have landed a roommate who only asks for a one-time payment of just one sovereign for the rent. Things get even better for Watson when Holmes chooses the smaller of the two bedrooms as his own. So now we have a war veteran staying with a successful, if eccentric, consulting detective. Their companionship slowly evolves into a friendship, but even so, Watson is initially clueless as to what he’s gotten himself into by handing over that sovereign.

From the beginning though, it’s clear to the reader that this Holmes is unlike any other Holmes we’ve met before. It’s not just the fact that his name is Warlock and we highly suspect (especially after reading the blurb on the book cover) that magic flows through this Holmes. It’s more like we’re realizing for the first time in literary history that Watson is the one well-versed in deductive reasoning and investigative expertise, especially when it comes to handling evidence correctly at a crime scene. Holmes, on the other hand, seems a bit…distracted. Easily distracted by things that Watson cannot or will not notice, things that seem to have very little if anything to do with the crime being investigated.

Soon enough Watson discovers Holmes’s not-so-well-kept secret: he’s got the magic touch. The spirit of Holmes’s nemesis, Moriarty, is trapped inside his head. And Holmes can command demons to do his bidding. This would normally be a shocking scandal worthy of the penny dreadfuls, but in this Victorian society there are certain creatures that, though not embraced by society, live among them. For example, here’s our cast of characters:

warlock holmes character blurb

Yup! Inspector Lestrade is a vampire, aided by an ogre. Most of Scotland Yard is uncomfortable around Lestrade and Grogsson, if not downright terrified of them. But their record for closing cases (with Holmes’s help, of course) keeps them on the payroll despite others’ misgivings.

I’m laying all this out there to illustrate a point. While this could easily be some weird standalone parody of one of the most famous friendships in literary history, it is instead a faithful retelling of Sherlock Holmes–just a little twisted. And sometimes smoking. Because, ya know, brimstone and stuff.

True to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original format, Warlock Holmes: a Study in Brimstone is composed of several short stories. The first is the longest by far, but it kind of needs to be since it’s setting up the world and the characters. Despite the length, that story flew by for me, as did the others. I actually pouted when I was finished, and was a little bummed out to leave that world behind. Luckily for me this is just the first book in what I hope is a very long series, with Warlock Holmes: the Battle of Baskerville Hall  heading our way in May 2017.

So take a chance on something new! Let me know if you want to read this or not, and definitely get back to me if you end up actually reading the whole thing. I am desperate for people to talk to about this book that will be published May 17th.

Byzantium Or 2013’s Interview with the Vampire

byzantiumI went through a HUGE Anne Rice phase as a teenager. This was when vampires were cold-blooded (hahaha) killers and didn’t sparkle when the sun came out. They couldn’t go out into the light.

Here we are almost 30 years after the publication of Interview with the Vampire and Stephanie Meyer has decimated any coolness cred vampires earned over the last 250 years. Now vampires hiss like a cat that’s been stepped on. They sparkle in the sunlight. They don’t kill for the simple pleasure of it, but because they want to keep that last part of humanity with them. They kill because it is their job. Wonder what the benefits package on that job looks like? Oh yeah. Immortality. No need to go to the doctor.

Okay, let’s talk about immortality. Who wants to live forever? Teenagers who haven’t realized they’re mortal, pop stars, actors. It’s the little things about daily life that I find exhausting: wondering why my underwear feels so weird and then figuring out I’ve had them on backwards all day, looking in the mirror and noticing that gravity has been harder on my left boob than my right and having to take a few minutes every evening to up the girls so they don’t look like they’ve had a stroke. Why on earth would I want to do that until the end of time? Vampires have to watch everyone they love (and hate) die. Immortality means having to watch wars blossom and unfold, cultures destroyed, entire species eradicated. And having to watch it over and over and over again.

Well that was a little trip to a dark place.

In the film Byzantium, Neil Jordan (who also directed Interview with the Vampire) brings us a seemingly ordinary vampire movie about two women who have been alive for over 200 years. Clara (Gemma Arterton, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) is a stripper. Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan, Hannah, The Host) is an introspective “teenager.” They live together in London. The movie opens with Eleanor writing in a journal (because after being alive for over 200 years a vampire needs to tell her story since there’s only so many Golden Girls reruns to sit through before jumping out a window), tearing out the pages and crumpling them up and throwing them away. An old man finds a page and reads it. He invites her to his house. He is dying and he believes she can help him.

Clara, meanwhile, is giving a private lap dance to a man in the strip club where she works. She invites her customer home with her because she knows she can get a little more money out of him. Over the years she’s run several brothels. But she’s taken the wrong man home. He works for the vampire Brethren. The movie doesn’t explain what that is until almost the end. I’ll just say they don’t like having women in the vampire family. The man tries to kill Clara. She cuts off his head and burns down her apartment. She finds Eleanor and they go on the run. 

Eleanor and Clara run to a small coastal town. Eleanor meets Noel, a man whose mother just died and left him a rundown building called the Byzantium Hotel. They move in and Eleanor turns the Byzantium Hotel into a brothel. Hey, you find something you’re good at, you stick with it. Carpentry and prostitution are two of the world’s oldest trades. If you can find a hooker that can build you a bookcase, your life is complete. Eleanor falls in love with a boy in town but since she’s immortal what’s the point of falling in love if it’s not going to last?

Eleanor and Clara’s lives begin a ripple effect, drawing people, both good and evil, into their lives. This isn’t a fancy art house vampire movie. It boils down to time and how it can become a burden and how even if we feel that our bonds to other people are suffocating, in the end when you have someone who knows you’re a monster and they still love you, well, hold onto that suffocation. For another 800 years.

Abraham Vampire

You’re joking, right?

Abraham Lincoln, a vampire hunter?

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterWhen I heard about this novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I laughed because I thought it was a joke. The cover shows a very stately President Lincoln looking a little left of the camera, the tip of an ax peeking over his right shoulder.  Flip the book over and you’ll see blood splatters and a vampire’s head held behind Lincoln’s back.

I put the book on hold for myself before seeing the cover because the title was so fantastic. I thought I was in for a humorous 350 pages. And parts of it were funny. Darkly humorous. But as I read on, I began to see how the book could be read as a piece of literature. Vampire hunting aside, the book gives a good history lesson for Civil War and history buffs alike. I began to see how our  16th president  could be this fierce vampire hunter, wielding an ax and flinging stakes like he was born to it. And in fact, according to Grahame-Smith, he was born to be a vampire hunter. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the novel goes into how the future of America—throughout the Civil War and beyond—relies on Lincoln remaining a vampire hunter. 

Older Abraham Lincoln, 1860s

Photo Source: Iowa Digital Library

My vision of Abraham Lincoln had always been from the photographs of him: a long and lean man with a face full of sorrows, sometimes a beard, which a little girl had advised him to grow because the ladies like “whiskers,” see-through eyes so light in color they look like sea glass.  I saw him as a man weighted down by the loss of two sons, bouts of intense melancholy and the looming Civil War.

Told through both third person narrative and journal entries kept by Lincoln from a young age, this book moves quickly. Even though it’s fiction, it could have gone in an entirely different direction. Lincoln as vampire hunter could have been goofy fun. Instead, the story is a serious one. Lincoln comes across as a warrior, one step ahead of the monsters that would overwhelm the country.

Fast-paced and compelling, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is my choice for a few hours escapism.

Jennifer

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