In the interest of preserving continuity of thought in reviewing two books that I read for the A to Z Reading Challenge that were written as a duo, I have decided to write a review of both together. So, without further ado:
From the title of this blog post and the books themselves, you’ve probably already guessed that these are romance novels about vampires. Before you click that red dot in the top left corner of this window (yes, I have a Mac), let me say that these books were not as bad as you are probably expecting them to be. For whatever reasons, unbeknownst to me, I bought these novels from Amazon.com with a gift card my cousin gave me for Christmas. They were cheap, the synopsis piqued my interest, and I had read a historical by Medeiros before that I found well-written. I gave them a shot and was pleasantly surprised.
You all know by now that I like romance novels, but I have literally never read those about vampires or werewolves. I don’t know why I can’t abide that sub-genre, knowing I have read the whole Twilight cycle and wait with bated breath for True Blood to return to HBO for a new season. Maybe the fact that these novels are also historicals was what made them more palatable for my reading consumption. Either way, it seems that the world is obsessed with vampires and supernatural creatures and that there is something sexy about vampires. (Has anyone not seen Interview with the Vampire? Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Antonio Banderas. In period clothing. Point proven.) I could pontificate about why I think this obsession exists, but I’ll spare you by naming three points about why the world, the female half in particular, is in love with vampires:
1. Immortality. Nobody really wants to get old, get wrinkles, go gray, et cetera. People are naturally unwilling to die, especially since no one really knows what is out there on the other side of death.
2. The biting. There is something intimate and sexual about the act of biting, which of course comes along with vampires (unless of course this is Twilight, but what do you expect from the no-sex, Mormon Meyer). Fangs penetrating flesh, the exchange of bodily fluids, and intimate veiny areas like the neck (jugular vein) or the thigh (great saphenous vein), evoke more of a carnal than cannibalistic feeling during the biting. Plus, in most vampire movies, the bitee always looks like she enjoys it.
3. Chivalry. Most vampires, and this is a generalization, are much older than us. If we have a modern setting, even a vampire from the turn on the 20th century is from a completely different social era: an era where women wore beautiful gowns, when men opened doors and asked to court you, and dancing actually involved dancing to music that required intricate steps and twirling. Vampires represent the past and literally embody a historic time period that is unavailable to people living centuries afterword. If vampires ever could exist, I’d find the oldest one, chain him to my chair with my silver Tiffany’s jewelry, and grill him about what really went on during the Eleusinian Mysteries, where the hell Anastasia disappeared to, and what Napoleon had in his jacket that he kept his hand in there all the time.1 Hopefully my vampire is well-traveled, patient, and has a sense of humor. Vampires, in our imaginations, have the compiled knowledge and manners of centuries of better-behaved ancestors, who wouldn’t think about nibbling on your neck without at least a “Please, may I bite you, ma’am?”
That being said, vampire romance novels are inherently less low-brow than you might think because they provide a psychological outlet for themes mere mortals seek to explore: the nature of the soul, knowledge, power, et cetera. Medeiros’s novels are no different. Both explore the state of humanity, the soul, and how terrible it would be if your sister were in danger of marrying a vampire.
While her two books do have a vampire who is only several years old (in his life as one of the eternally damned), both do take place in Victorian England, so the allure of chivalry still applies. Mostly, Medeiros uses the fear of what is traded for immortality and strength, mainly one’s humanity, to propel Caroline Cabot, her heroine in After Midnight, into saving her sister from marrying who she believes to be a vampire. In the first book, Caroline becomes involved in a plot to capture and kill a vampire with evil intentions and discovers the truth about the Viscount Trevelyan and his brother, one of whom is a vampire and the other, a vampire hunter. She falls in love and saves her sister, but destroys one brother’s chances of taking back his soul and mortality from the vampire that created him.
Against the advice of Caroline, Portia, the third sister in the Cabot family who appears in After Midnight, attempts to aid Julian Kane, the vampire brother, to recover his soul and regain his humanity in The Vampire Who Loved Me. In the second and final book in this duo, Medeiros writes more about the vampire world and what it means to be human. Portia is drawn to the side of Julian that is still a man and loves him despite the fact that he is a vampire.
Both books have elements of adventure and mystery in addition to the love story, which is probably why I enjoyed both of them. The plot is not dependent on the characters dealing with finding out vampires exist or being immortal. The development of relationships, detective work, witty repartee, and the quest to find a way out of being damned fleshed out the stories and made the books work better as a duo, rather than simply as two separate, distinct stories only tenuously related to each other by the reuse of characters. The Vampire Who Loved Me is definitely a continuation of After Midnight, and I suggest reading both in order because a lot happens between the two books that relates to events in the other. The female characters are strong, independent, brave, and fiercely protective of their sisters. I enjoyed After Midnight more for having the mystery elements, finding out with the protagonist which one of the brothers was a vampire and why the Kane brothers only show themselves at night, whereas The Vampire Who Loved Me I felt developed the relationship between Portia and Julian better.
I guess I’d recommend both books to those of you who want to dip a tow in the supernatural genre; the general romance plot and the historical setting are enough to ease you gently into the vampire sub-genre pool. I don’t know that I’d consider myself a convert, but I might consider reading another vampire historical if it is anything like After Midnight and The Vampire Who Loved Me. This may have to do with the fact that I think Medeiros is a great, fast-paced writer. However, I don’t think I’ll be keeping the books on my shelf after having read them once already.
1 – You know you think it is an odd gesture too, something more than a pose of imposing regality. In that episode of I Dream of Jeannie where they go back to Napoleon’s house party, Tony discovers that Napoleon is allergic to wool and just has an itch. I would like to know if this is true.