May 09, 11
Fans of supernatural/vampire fiction who don't mind a strong religious theme
Read from April 21 to May 08, 2011, read count: 1
WHOA! I started this novel without really knowing what to expect. (It was a generous gift from the author, who's a Goodreads friend --but that didn't prejudice me in her favor. :-) ) Keley is a first novelist, with no prior track record; and I knew the book was self-published, and hence not vetted. What I experienced absolutely blew me out of the water; I was totally hooked and mesmerized practically from the beginning. The author handles words with an authority and skill almost unheard of in a beginning writer; but more than that, she writes with a genuine spiritual and psychological depth that I've rarely experienced in modern (or any other) fiction. And the emotional intensity of this novel has to be experienced to be believed. I didn't think it likely that another writer could ever match Meyer's stunning Twilight series in that respect, and the two works are very different in their essential vision; but the reader's emotional involvement here is every bit as intense or more so. The emotions aren't necessarily of a warm-fuzzy sort, though; I finished this feeling that my psyche had been run over with a harrow. But neither are we dealing with a vision that leaves you in disgust and despair. (Since this is the opening volume of a projected series, it won't constitute exactly a spoiler to say that the story arc here does not bring you to a place of complete closure; to achieve that, you'll have to read the next volume(s) --and you'll most definitely want to!)
Since vampire fiction is an established tradition in the supernatural genre, it's helpful to "locate" Keley's work, as it were, with some comparisons. She lists Rice as a favorite author and an influence, and her vampires, like Rice's, are not the blood-lusting automatons of the classic tradition; they do have personalities, consciences, and sensibilities, and some control over who and when they bite. Their characteristics are much like those in the Rice novels, as well, and perhaps sort of midway between the traditional model and, say, Meyer's --for instance, they can't shapeshift, and do reflect in mirrors; but they DO have fangs, and sleep through the day (and while sunlight won't kill them, it can debilitate and disfigure them). They also have a psi capability that's not true mind-reading, but comes close (though in a perhaps unconscious similarity to the Twilight books, our male vampire protagonist can't sense anything from the heroine). The really unique aspect of Keley's vampires, though, is this: though they feed physically on blood, their feeding drive, at its deepest level, is to experience complete mental/spiritual oneness with another person in the moment of death, knowing experientially everything that he/she essentially is. (This is based, apparently, partly on their inherent quasi-telepathic capability, and partly on the experience of blood-drinking in this magnitude itself; the Biblical comment that "the blood is the life" comes to mind.) So feeding on animal blood, or blood stored in frozen pouches, or blood from a live human in non-lethal quantities, doesn't satisfy this drive; "vegetarian" vampirism simply isn't an option for them. They have to be killers of humans, even if they don't like it. Keley faces this fact squarely, and then grapples with the question of how vampires can relate to the grace of God; because this is very definitely a Christian exploration of the vampire mythos. And of all the modern Christian treatments of the vampire theme that I've read, I'd say this is the deepest and most profound of any of them, including my own.
Since her narrator is an 800-year-old vampire, his narrative voice is not the breezy, conversational contemporary diction of writers like Meyer or Dent. Rather, his natural voice is much more measured and elegant, with some involved syntax (and his English is influenced in some particulars by French, a nice subtle touch) and vocabulary; he learned English before language instruction was "dumbed down," and it shows. This gives the prose style the flavor of a 19th-century novel. I was actually reminded of Henry James, because of both this factor and the marked emphasis on the character's interior thoughts and intuitions --though the Jamesian quality is reminiscent of that writer at his best rather than his worst, and the plot does have its share of outward event and even violent action. Don't be misled into thinking it's dull; Keley quickly draws you into a page-turning quest for the solution to the mystery that steadily thickens here. Just who --or what-- IS Angelina, really?
If I have one slight criticism here, it's that, as a Roman Catholic author, the Christian content at the warp and woof of Keley's plot is heavily influenced by the Neo-Platonic strand of Catholic thought, with its idea of immortality as the total shucking off of the physical and its almost Eastern concept of the "beatific vision." My own ideas of the afterlife are significantly different. But that's a quibble. Normally, I don't declare myself, here on Goodreads, as a "fan" of an author until I've read and liked at least four of his/her books; I try not to do it lightly. In Keley's case, I became an official fan on the basis of this one book; and that says exactly what it implies. If I'm breathing when the next book of the series comes out, I'll be reading it as soon as I possibly can!