I'm just going to put this out there: I'm neither a big reader of vampire lit nor of mobster lit. While I enjoy movies and TV shows about both genres,I'm just going to put this out there: I'm neither a big reader of vampire lit nor of mobster lit. While I enjoy movies and TV shows about both genres, for whatever reason, I've never been that interested in reading about either. It just wasn't my cup of tea.
I think that's what surprised me about this book. Because it is about Vampires. And it is about mobsters, and while it could've been very easy for this to devolve into two very tired cliches, it didn't. And here I was, thoroughly enjoying the ride.
A large part of that enjoyment was because it's a character-driven piece. New York City in the 30s is as much a character in this novel as Faolan, our hero, is. He's got his sidekicks, Frank and Rod and Miranda and all the other guys, all loyal and all fairly well-drawn. He's got his enemies--Killian and Rothstein, both of whom are nuanced and not just evil for the sake of being evil. No, they can pretty much justify their actions so that you, as a reader, feel conflicted.
And really, when it comes down to it, Faolan's an anti-hero. This guy is not a good guy, not by any stretch of the imagination. Deep down, I always thought that he was trying to hold onto his humanity even after he'd been turned. Part of me always thought that this was, to a certain degree, a story about redemption. I don't think the author would agree with me on that, but that's what I got out of it.
Equally violent (because what would a vampire/mobster novel be, without violence?), romantic, funny, haunting and chilling in turns, this narrative has pretty much everything going for it. One of my favorite parts is when Frank brings Faolan back to his place, and Faolan realizes just how messed up Frank is, with his collection of spiders. Definitely one of the funniest scenes in the entire book. Faolan's romance with Stephanie is beautiful, almost as beautiful as his remorse over his wife, Colleen. And chilling? A scene early on in the book, involving Frank, Faolan and a young boy, is still with me.
The pacing is good -- it slows down when it needs to, but when it amps up, it's all action all the time. Very much like Faolan's killing groove.
And the writing: Brian McKinley can write. He has an easy way with words. He knows when to use it sparingly, he knows when to give it a bit more. The writing is solid, the narrative is tight, the characterization is on point.
My main reason for not giving it 5-stars is because there were parts where I thought some foreknowledge of this Vampyr world was required. It's a fairly complex world, and all the terms --- reeve, adjutor, etc. --- weren't immediately transparent. But in the grand scheme of things, that's a small thing.
In the end, it wasn't as bad as I thought in the beginning. Hearne obviously did his research, not only into Irish mythology, but also into other, morIn the end, it wasn't as bad as I thought in the beginning. Hearne obviously did his research, not only into Irish mythology, but also into other, more esoteric, religions/myths. So for that, I give the guy some kudos.
But man, was it corny. Corny, hackneyed, sometimes annoying, and in the end, after all that build-up to a huge battle, epically disappointing. The ending I could shrug off. The rest of the stuff? It just kept getting in the way of me enjoying what I was reading.
I'm partially curious to see what else he comes up with in the other books of the series, but the question is, how curious? Will it be worth it? Ask me the next time the moon is full....more
Narrative: 3 stars. Ancient Blood is many things: vampire novel, satire, cautionary tale, and at its heOverall rating: 3 stars.
Breakdown of my rating:
Narrative: 3 stars. Ancient Blood is many things: vampire novel, satire, cautionary tale, and at its heart, a romance. At times witty, sometimes biting, it succeeds on many levels: it is a fresh, richly crafted vampire world; it’s a caustic send-up of today’s political landscape; a mecca of sci-fi and pop culture references; and finally, an homage not only to vampire lore, new and old, but also to Joseph Campbell’s monomyth or hero’s journey. Brian McKinley---and his main protagonist, Avery Doyle---love their vampires, and it shows.
However, where it doesn’t quite succeed is in its political machinations and the motivations of its hegemons. While McKinley gamely pokes fun at The Order---its traditions, laws, culture and place in society---he also takes it very seriously as it is the ruling organization at the heart of this Vampyr world he’s created. I will admit, there were times while I was reading and it got to the “Caroline explaining things to Avery” or “Avery listening as Caroline and X (enter character name here) discussing their plans” portions of the novel, where she’s going over the various political maneuverings of each of the hegemons that I felt a) the discussions became too pedantic and bogged the story down, and b) I was tempted numerous times to pull out a piece of paper and create a flow chart showing who was doing what to whom and when and who was allied (in reality and as deception) with one another. Yes, it got that convoluted on occasion.
Still, on the whole, political intrigues and ”Huh?!” moments aside (feral vampires, nukes, mind wipes [not the glamouring from traditional vampire lore], etc.), I enjoyed the novel. This is not a vampire novel for the younger crowd or the squeamish. Oh no. (view spoiler)[The novel doesn’t have a happy ending. (hide spoiler)] Ancient Blood’s got very flawed characters. This is an adult novel, with very graphic sex (that would make even Christian Grey blanch and Anastasia Steele wish to be locked in the Red Room of Pain instead of spending ten minutes with Valmont, Julia, Draco or Jade Tiger), a lot of violence to women and children, and an uncompromising, unflinching view of what people would do for what they believed in and who they loved. And in the end, that’s what made me give it 3 stars.
Writing: 4 stars. Brian McKinley is a very good, very strong, smart writer. Whatever minor typos there were in the text, I attribute to poor editing (Ancient Blood was published via a small publishing house that is no longer in business). It’s obvious that he’s crafted and lovingly created a wholly-realized vampire world that is different from other vampiric worlds out there (e.g., Anne Rice’s world, Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood, the Buffyverse, the world of the Vampire Diaries, the Twiverse, etc.).
And while the "vampirism as a virus" concept is not new and has certainly been addressed in many other novels, movies and TV shows, his take on it is. McKinley actually did a good job with his research on genetics and molecular biology (and as a scientist by profession, I was not disappointed). Still, his is not the standard, popular young adult’s romantic view of vampirism, and for that, I’m grateful. While Ancient Blood is a romance at its core, it is not in the least bit romantic or sentimental, no matter how maudlin Avery can be when he goes all goo-goo-eyed at Caroline.
I’ve had many discussions with the author (he and I are in the same writer’s group and we’re currently reviewing his second novel, also set in this world but in a different era) about the vampires/Vampyrs in his world and their genesis, how they work, how they think, and I’m happy to share that he knows his stuff. There are still areas and plot points he’s working out in his vampire universe, but it is easily apparent that the world building he’s done is extensive, complex and multi-layered.
Characters: 3 stars. Here’s what I’ll have to say about McKinley’s characters: he doesn’t believe in creating all good or all bad characters. In fact, he likes anti-heroes. Avery, in this sense, is a little different from all the other characters he’s created in that Avery is a “baby vamp” and is still learning the ropes, in spite of everything Avery thought he knew about vamps. This makes Avery endearing, and his journey the reader’s journey, too. Caroline, in my opinion, was nuanced but a little too idealized, and I didn’t care for her as much. But seen from Avery’s lens, I can see why she was written as such: he was in love with her and held her up on a pedestal. Even the Dhampir Ash was a fairly well-developed character and had different gradations. The one thing about Ash that set me off a little was that I understood what motivated him, but I didn’t really see what his thoughts were. Then again, I can set this aside since this is Avery’s and Caroline’s story, not Ash’s.
All the other characters, though, mostly the Hegemons, from Sebastian to Draco to Valmont and Julia seemed fairly one dimensional to me. No, they weren’t all evil, as evidenced by Sebastian’s prior desire to do right by his Domain. But Draco lived up to his name: he was a draconian ruler, excessively harsh and severe, yet also governed by a set code of laws. Julia Agrippina was as lascivious and scheming as she was back in Roman times. Valmont was characterized as a fop, but a dangerous fop, one who was libertine and licentious, with nary an iota of good between his ears. Geoffrey Plantagenet, too, was close to what he was in the twelfth century: charming, yet cold, calculating and scheming underneath.
Similarly, these personages all held on to their cultures, their speech, their traditions, their way of dress, etc. (Side note to Brian and a pet peeve of mine: how Sebastian speaks is not Middle English – check out Chaucer or Havelok the Dane or the original Robin Hood tales or even Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur – those texts are in Middle English. The Middle English period lasted from the late 11th century to the mid-1400s, roughly around the time of the second vowel shift brought on by the appearance of the Normans in England. Sebastian’s way of speaking was more like rustic Scottish, but it was definitely Modern English. Even Shakespeare spoke in Early Modern English…*end of rant*.)
Of the other hegemons, only Iago and Jade Tiger seemed to be somewhat more nuanced to me, but maybe because unlike the others, these were newly created characters---based not on personages who actually existed or were contemporaneous to the era---but that they were more a pastiche of the people from the different eras/cultures they supposedly came from.
Brian and I had discussed his characterization in passing shortly before Ancient Blood was published. I think he held on to the quintessential personalities of his hegemons because he wanted to show that these people wouldn’t have changed their core beliefs or what was ingrained in them culturally. Julia Agrippina, for example, was 2000 years old. In that time, he felt it would have been out of character for her to have changed how she was or how she thought and acted. To him, it just wasn’t a long enough period of time to exact a change in her belief structure.
And that’s where I disagree with him. Change is almost guaranteed; in our own lives, while we try to stay true to who we are, we do undergo changes, minute as they are, and we certainly aren’t immortals. It’s almost inevitable for change not to happen. So if you’re a vampire/Vampyr and are around for centuries, change almost becomes a survival instinct: you need to change, not only with the times and with the integration of technology, but also in how you think. Otherwise, you’d never be able to blend in and assimilate successfully with an ever-changing world.
And in the end, I guess that was Brian’s point: that these hegemons---except for Geoffrey, who eagerly embraced 21st century technology and ideals---were trying to rule like they did in the past and was maybe why The Order needed to be shaken up, changed.
Execution: 2 stars. I wasn’t so much a fan of the political intrigues. In and of itself, the politics each individual hegemon espoused was fascinating, but when the machinations and scheming were brought together as a whole, it became too intricate, too convoluted. It was confusing. And for me, when I’m detracted enough by what I’m reading that I feel the need to draw a flow chart, that only ruins the experience for me.
What was good about it: As his debut novel, McKinley has crafted a rich, dense, well-thought out vampire world with a fairly likable hero. He’s left enough leeway in the story that should he decide to continue on with it, he could.
In the end, I’ll gladly read other works that McKinley produces – I think he’s got a lot of talent and with the right editor providing guidance and a close read of his work, he could improve significantly.
What could have been handled better: the political aspects of the novel (really, vampires threatening to nuke each other? Wouldn’t that have blown up their food supply?) could use some work. Providing explanations for certain terms used would be helpful (after reading Ancient Blood one and a half times, I’m still not quite sure what an adjutor is). ...more
I couldn't put it down. I devoured it! The movie does not do the book justice, at all. Now that I've read the first in the series, it's all downhill (I couldn't put it down. I devoured it! The movie does not do the book justice, at all. Now that I've read the first in the series, it's all downhill (so I'm told). Still, I think I'm going to give the other 3 books in the series a chance....more