Author: William Meikle
First published 2002 – 2004
I bought the Watchers Omnibus primarily because, as well as being vampire literature, Willie Meikle is a facebook friend and I feel it is best to declare that now. However, whilst often I will avoid reviews of friends’ work I felt this was open to review in this instance.
The book is an omnibus of three novels: The Coming of the King, The Battle for the Throne and Culloden! As the story begins, in the prologue, we are at the Tower of London in 1649 and are witness to the execution of Charles Stewart – except this is not the Charles Stewart of history, the deposed king was a vampire.
The books then jump forward to 1745 and offers an alternate history of the Jacobite rebellion in a Britain very different to that drawn by our conventional histories. The friends Sean and Martin are watchmen, assigned to Milecastle on Hadrian’s Wall – a Hadrian’s Wall which is fortified against invasion. It is thought that nothing “man and only man”, as the novels describe an unturned human, now lives in Scotland.
When a human and his ill daughter arrive at the fortification the world of 'Jack the Lad' Sean and Thane's son Martin turns upside down and the return of the Boy King, plus the subsequent attempt to restore the throne, sees England threatened by an army of the undead whose every victory swells their ranks.
Whilst this has a real world setting the book is very much of a fantasy sensibility. For instance the woodsmen, whom both Sean and Martin meet at different points in the series, are very spiritual creatures, with access to magic and whilst there is a suggestion that they might be Pictish, in a fantasy connotation they were clearly elven. This mix of fantasy worked well and we even got a kind of a werewolf undertone, but tied heavily to the berserker theorem.
The books are solidly written and keep the reader's attention throughout, with well drawn (and often earthy) characters. The vampire lore is fairly familiar, sunlight burns, as does garlic and silver. A stake through the heart and beheading are favoured despatching methods. If bitten you might be treated, if quick, but likely you will turn.
I did have one question around the use of religious artefacts and in particular Christian iconography. Early on a character, called Campbell, describes how Others (as vampires are known) are held at bay by the cross. “I found they were backing away from me. No, not from me, from something behind me. I turned to see Angus advancing from the church, his silver cross held before him.” Then – in the same recollection – we hear that the Boy King has no such fears “I have long since lost my fear of it – after all, what does one dead king have to fear from another?”
This is all well and good. However there is a suggestion that Christ himself was one of the undead Blood Kings – seemingly confirmed when there is a vision of the nativity and an understanding that the three wise men were vampire hunters bringing 'gifts' of garlic, silver and stake. Indeed there is a Templar backstory along with overtones reminiscent of the theories expounded in such books as Holy Blood and Holy Grail. This all worked well enough but if Christ was a vampire why would the cross work at all? Was it just a matter of the faith of the individual with the cross or that of the vampire, rather than a true religious significance? It seems likely but I would have liked an explicit confirmation.
This was, however, a minor quibble – a query mark that did not spoil what was a rip roaring fantasy adventure with earthy characters, a great setting and vampires happy to rip your throat out. Well worth seeking out. 7 out of 10.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
Author: William Meikle