Saturday, September 11, 2010
First Published: 1993
The Blurb: Castle Banat: a stronghold of insane enormity, created by a monstrous architectural genius. The size of Banat is such that it even has its own weather. Inside, room after room is filled with fantastical horrors: Banat holds an infinity of mystery and terrible wonder.
The castle is home to the Family, the clans that make up the vampire world. One of their greatest rites is the Golden, the sacrifice of a victim whose blood is the sweetest and most powerful there is. But in 186-, at a gathering three centuries in the planning, the Golden is murdered, brutally devoured by person or persons unknown.
The Parisian vampire Behiem, new to the game, is charged with finding the culprit. So begins a journey through the vastness of Banat and into the very core of the vampire mind; a personal odyssey of sublime terror.
Set against a backdrop that is one of the greatest imaginative feats since Gormenghast, and full of the passionate games and sheer sexual force of the vampire, The Golden is fabulous gothic mystery and exceptionally powerful storytelling.
The review: I had seen The Golden written about in hushed, reverent tones and perhaps that was not the best thing to have read before going into a book – could it possibly live up to its hype?
I have to say that the drawing of a comparator to Gormenghast, within the blurb, was highly accurate. This was very much like Peake’s classic trilogy in setting. A huge, gargantuan even, rambling castle that was a world unto itself. I think where this falls down next to Peake is in that the castle within the Gormenghast books actually felt like a character itself. In The Golden the castle is just a stage, a stage written with some evocative and very clever prose but a stage nonetheless.
Of course, The Golden has vampires in it and we discover that sunlight does burn them and to kill a vampire is to “illuminate” him or her. Turning them is called judging and very few survive the ordeal. When judged they meet a small amount of ‘the mystery’ – the realm beyond mortality, a neat way of describing death in mystifying tones. Of course we also have the Golden herself – a mortal bred into existence over centuries to create the most intoxicating draft of blood.
It is the murder of the Golden that becomes the central premise of the book and it is the reason this fell down as a read ultimately. Yes this is superb prose of a high fantasy nature, yes it is a totally unusual setting for the genre and an intriguing vampire society, even if, ultimately, it demanded greater exploration than the novel allowed for. However, at its heart is a murder mystery and Behiem is built as a detective par-excellence, a former Paris police whizz kid who quickly rose up the ranks. Why then it took him the whole of the book to discover the culprit, and why he was actually surprised at his own finding – when I had worked it out very early into the book and felt like screaming at Behiem’s incompetence. As a murder mystery this fell very short.
6 out of 10 reflects brilliant prose and a marvellous setting that genre fans will love to explore but the score is cut down through the, frankly, rubbish detective story that is at the heart of the novel.