Monday, February 25, 2008

Rulers of Darkness – review

Author: Steven Spruill

First Published: 1995

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: “In the grounds of a Washington cathedral, the police find the body of a young woman with her throat shredded by human teeth. Soon other victims follow.

“Police Detective Merrick Chapman is called onto the case. When traces of a bizarre blood type are found on the victim, so is renowned haematologist Dr Katherine O’Keefe.

“Katie thinks that she and her former lover, Merrick, are working together to catch the murderer, but Merrick is better informed about the vampire killer than he lets on. And he knows he can never reveal the truth without putting other lives in danger.

“An ingenious fusion of horror, medical thriller, and police procedural, RULERS OF DARKNESS is a chillingly realistic vampire novel. It is a convincing and compulsive read, one that will grip and terrify you and keep you turning the pages to the very end.”

The Review: I need to tell you a story, about how I came to read this book as it will explain my thoughts on it. I first saw this book, along with its two sequels, for sale at a newsagents in a train station several years ago. I thought they sounded interesting but I was setting off for the day and didn’t know whether I could afford them. I didn’t purchase them. When I got home I had completely forgotten the titles and the author's name.

Not to worry, next time I was at the station I would buy the books (or at least book one). As it happened, the books were no longer there on my next visit to the station. Cut forward to about 6 months ago and I was in a second hand store when I spotted book 3 of the series “Lords of Light”. I purchased it and then when on line and bought book 2 and this book. It has taken me until now to read book 1.

This is my problem with the novel. It wasn’t that it was badly written, it isn’t, it was because for some reason the book did not grab me and I kept putting it down as something more interesting came along. Perhaps it is because I am not a big fan of medical thrillers (and it does have an aspect of that), or perhaps because I am not a big fan of police procedural novels (and it also has an aspect of that). To be fair, however, it is more aimed at being a horror.

We have Merrick, vampire and police officer (not an original mix I grant you) but what he does more than anything is hunt other vampires. Except they are not vampires. I think this is where I lost ground. These are hemophages, essentially humans with a different gene. The hemophage lives a normal life until around twelve and then the gene kicks in. They become inflicted with a rare, untreatable, form of leukaemia and will die, unless they ingest blood.

Having ingested blood their own blood structure changes and they become ageless (though we assume they grow to adulthood) blood drinkers. They have standard vampire traits, they regenerate, they are strong, they can cause blind spots on the retina of a person to hide themselves, they can use the same eye mojo to restrict blood and knock a person unconscious and some can trigger vivid memories in another.

It is pseudo science, there is no real explanation just an attempt to make the creatures sound both natural and scientifically explainable but, bottom line, what is being described is a supernatural creature but Spruill tries to strip away the supernatural elements.

Merrick himself hunts his own kind (to lock them away as they are essentially unkillable, until they fall back into leukaemia and die a natural, painful death) as he is the only one that does not kill. In other days he would take the wicked and now he takes blood by transfusion bag to drink later – none of the others seem strong enough to resist the attack. These powerful creatures are too strong for us lesser mortals.

I think it was this attempt to stray from the supernatural into the scientific that prevented me getting gripped (although I am not against the concept generally in vampire novels), though it might have just been me not getting on with the book. As it is, I feel funny about lowering the score as it isn’t a badly written book, but it just didn’t grip or entertain me as it should. To some degree I liked the interaction between the two main ‘phage’ characters, this being done at a distance and based on assumption of what the other was thinking and how they were motivated, as neither was talking to the other. However, even in this I felt unconvinced at times. I have books 2 and 3 and, whilst I will read them at some point, I feel no real compulsion to do so immediately. 5 out of 10.


Derek said...

I liked this one, but didn't love it. In many ways, it was very much a standard entertaining vampire novel. It wasn't a classic, nor was it abysmal. I'd probably give it a 7/10 based on personal taste.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers Derek. I think that's way I aimed for a 5 out of 10 - a standard average.

As you say, however, all personal taste.

Derek said...

The extra two points come from the blind spot idea. :)

clark said...

i wonder if they chose a character by the name of merrick due to the washington setting (it was the name of the priest in "the exorcist" also set in washington)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Clark

Its possible, I guess also that Merrick may be a common name round there.