Sunday, July 20, 2008

Love in Ruins – review

Author: Sandra Leigh

First Published: 2004

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: “When the main character dies in the first ten pages, where can a story go from there? Primarily: to Hell and back again. But there is a price for returning from The Road, for coming back from the dead. Olivia Claria Severus is a patrician woman in Ancient Italy. She is a senator’s daughter, a senator’s wife, and now, at nineteen, a mother at last. Her troubles begin with her son’s birth and her death mere moments later. She finds herself on The Road to the River Styx to await the Ferryman, but before she even has her fare or sees the ripples in the water heralding the approaching boat, she is ripped back to the world of the living and into her weakened body. It is then that she learns the truth about Aeschylus, her aged playwright: He is a vampire, and now, so is she. Unfortunately, something at the river with power saw her, and covets her for its own, and will do ANYTHING to get her.

”What follows is an unlife in constant flux. Vesuvius erupts, burying her beneath its hot, stony blanket. When Olivia wakes again she is in a museum less than a year from the turning of the second millennium. Surrounded by strange people in a strange time and pursued relentlessly by an unknown presence, she finds herself caught in the midst of a four hundred year old Scottish clan feud, the current epicenter of a bloody triangle. She finds love and comfort in James Alexander MacLeod while being hunted by his rival, Bruce ‘The Butcher’ MacDonald, but is it enough to save her from a creature older than Fair Rome herself who has pursued her for nearly two thousand years?”

The Review: I am always delighted to look at vampiric material and so when Sandra Leigh asked me if I would like to review her book I was more than happy to do so. However, that in itself can be difficult, I am want to be honest in a review and yet would not wish to offend the author should I feel that the book be inconsistent in quality. Balance would mean that I would need to be honest with the blog readers, though I would try to give constructive criticism, of course…

I do not have such worries, however, with Love in Ruins as it proved to be an excellent and worthwhile read. From the title and the cover one would be forgiven for thinking this was one of the innumerate vampire romances that plague vampire literature at the moment. Whilst it has a romantic element this is a well thought out adventure that is steeped in classical mythology, mainly Roman and Celtic, as well as vampiric lore.

As for the cover, to be fair Leigh warned me about it and is less than pleased with it herself!

The book begins at Pompeii and follows the bleeding to death, during childbirth, of Olivia and her subsequent turning into a vampire. What I thought was marvellous was the fact that we followed Olivia on the road to the Styx and back and became subsumed within Roman life and mythology. When Vesuvius erupts, and Olivia is buried for two millennia in a dowry chest she had hid in to escape the volcano’s fury, I felt a little sad as I thought I would miss the rich Roman setting that Leigh drew around the reader.

My fears were misplaced, firstly because Olivia holds true to her Roman self in the modern America she finds herself in and also because the subsequent story is as rich and even more varied.

The vampire lore moves from standard to original. Sunlight destroys vampires, as does beheading. Stakes through the heart, however, do not destroy but paralyse the vampire – a device used in the Masquerade role-playing material and subsequently used in other sources as well. At sunrise most vampires die, though for reasons unknown Olivia simply sleeps. She also unconsciously breathes (most vampires do not) and is active during a large proportion of the daylight hours.

The vampires also have a range of powers, depending on the vampire; Olivia’s tending to be empathic in nature. Turning relies on draining the individual and feeding them vampiric blood. Digesting vampire blood gives the donating vampire some level of control and dominance over the individual - be they mortal or undead themselves.

We get a full range of mythology, as I mentioned, and some truly interesting characters. Critically, some of the accented dialogue was a little heavy to get through – but that is being hyper-critical. Another criticism might come in that, to a degree, the main story arc perhaps meanders - seeming to climax and then continuing. However, one must also recognise that the characters are a joy and these story climaxes are red herrings, almost, until Leigh finally reveals the conspiracy and duplicity that has manipulated Olivia's story and the main arc is neatly drawn together and concluded.

The main criticism, however, has to be one laid at the industry’s door rather than the author's. This is not a short book and suffers, therefore, for being in e-book format – many readers will balk at 589 pages via the screen and it is a lot to print in A4 format. I am aware that Leigh is looking to find a publisher willing to carry the book in paper format and that is the format the book truly deserves to be in.

Be that as it may, we are looking at the book in terms of content and not format. Content wise I can do little else but recommend this to you. 7 out of 10 for a book that uses a mythological base beautifully and builds a world around us we would love to know more about.

The e-book is available from Double Dragon, here.


Anonymous said...

I'm also writing a Roman vampire piece, though my 1st century Roman tale is to be merely the first in a collection of 8-10 short stories revolving around the same protagonist, spanning two millenia.

This is my first experience of writing, and it's proving to be quite an enjoyable one, mixing my two favourite genres: gothic horror and historical detective.

I know, vampires tales are awash with vampire detectives these days, but in my defense I fully intend for my creation to be an unapologetic psychopath whose chief motivation for solving mysteries is to engage his intellect and thereby restore a sense of thrill in the hunt (by the second tale he'll be a bored 1200 year old looking for a new hobby).

Being to some degree a pedant, my vampire won't actually be refered to as such prior to the 19th century. I'd like him to be very much the revenant of western European folklore, one that needs to drink blood but also kills for the pure pleasure of killing.

I'm not planning on giving my creature any fangs, and the 'turning' process will be a lengthy and intense occult initiation that, to put it one way, 'brainwashes' the ability to return from death into the subject. But the final part of that process will include drinking the blood of the undead. As for other vampire traits, I'm considering making sunlight a cause of decay that becomes gradually more harmful over time, ie an old vampire would rapidly become ash in the sun, whereas a newbie would be blinded (though that would leave it in a seriously vulnerable state). I don't foresee garlic or crosses causing my creature any problems, and staking will return to its original purpose (ie to pin the undead down). I'd also like to pick up Polidori's idea of lunar regeneration.

Anyway, enough of my rambling (been up all night at the computer again!). Thanks for this wonderful blog! Ive only recently become a regular reader, but it's already become my main point of reference when I want to decide which book or film to buy.

While I'm here, Ive noticed that while you have a link to a list of all the books and comics you've reviewed, you don't seem to have one for your film reviews (apart from Hammer)...?

Best regards


(aka Aediles)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Sandeef - thanks for the comment. On the links, look to the side bar, above hammer films you'll see an a_d, E to q and r to z - that'll take you through to films and dvds.

The idea sounds good. Vampire detectives aren't too much of a prob... vampires making up for past sins are becoming boring... I like you're starting point.

I must say that in Love in Ruins the word vampire is only used when we move to the 20th century, in the roman section the word lamia is used.

I like the idea of returning to Polidori's moon revival as well.