Thursday, September 25, 2008

Vampire wars – review

Author: Steven Saville

First published: 2008 (omnibus)

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: “The Von Carnsteins are the most infamous vampires to stalk the Warhammer Old World. Their very names – Vlad, Konrad and Mannfred – conjure up images of doom, death and destruction. This omnibus edition collects all three of Steven Saville’s Von Carnstein novels – Inheritance, Dominion and Retribution – into one gore drenched volume that plumbs the very depths of evil.”

The Review: I’m not too familiar with Warhammer. I’ve never played the games (either tabletop or computer) and the only books set in the Warhammer world I had read prior to these were Jack Yeovil’s four Vampire Genevieve books (incidentally these are excellent reads, as one would expect as Yeovil was a pen name for Kim Newman).

However, being unfamiliar with an elsewhere established world shouldn’t be an issue. I knew that this was a fantasy level setting, swords and sorcery if you like, and a good author should be able to explain aspects that would be familiar to a new audience but without sounding preachy to an existing audience. Saville does this but, before I go into the book proper, there was an aspect that really bugged me. It might only be a small thing but it really got under my skin. It was surrounding dating.

The three novels are included in this but so is a short, set in the same world, called “Death’s cold kiss” – which examines Vlad Von Carnstein gaining control of the lands of Sylvanian. It is dated 1797. Then we have the first events in book 1 dated 2009. There is commentary that the people, who at that point do not know their Count to be a vampire, remember the cruel rule of his predecessor. Well the dating is all wrong here, over 200 years have passed. Long enough for people to be suspicious of the Count, I’d say! So long that no one would remember his predecessor.

Between book 1 and 2 is an original piece “The Court of the Crimson Queen” – which examines Vlad turning his bride Isabella. This is dated as 1808, reasonable dating to the 1797 date but unreasonable given that in 2009 people are talking of the miracle of her recent recovery. The main stories, through the first two novels, are set around 2050 onwards and there is some very minor question mark over the date of the second novel – but this wouldn’t have come to mind if it hadn’t been for the other dating issues. Saville avoids this in the third novel by not having dates.

All that seems very picky but it irked as I read and, thus, detracted from the novel. However, when we ignore that we get a wide vista of undead armies, led by vampire Lords, laying waste to the world of ‘civilised’ man. We get three very different vampire Counts, Vlad and his two ‘sons’ Konrad and Mannfred, and the differences prevent this becoming stale from novel to novel.

We also have a juxtaposition against mortal characters – with a willingness on Saville’s part to sacrifice a character as necessary – that allows us to watch this drama unfold on both a micro and macrocosmic level, plus the lesser vampire characters – Skellan, a twisted, evil character, and Jerek, a vampire looking for redemption – who become a constant through the tale.

The vampire lore is very familiar, we are talking undead creatures, whose hearts should be destroyed or who should be beheaded if one wishes to slay them. Holy objects will hurt a vampire but faith seems to be needed and silver burns them. Sunlight is an issue for most but, by force of will, a stronger vampire can withstand the sun.

There are other bloodlines of vampires and we do come across an all female, seductive clan of vampires who act as courtesans.

All in all this was good sword and sorcery material, despite dating issues. I felt it perhaps lost itself within minutia at times and at others glossed over areas – but these were occasional issues in an otherwise pretty well drawn set of novels. 6 out of 10.

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