Sunday, October 03, 2010

Emilie Undead – review

Author: Alan Lawson

First published: 2009

Contains Spoilers

The Blurb: My name is Emilie Hailsham and for three hundred years I have walked the earth. In that time I have learned the horror of my dark power and blighted existence, and yet also discovered a hunger for life that exceeds even the ravages of the blood thirst.

Sit with me and I shall tell you my tale.

The Review: Cards on the table, I have met Alan Lawson, socially, and he seems a very nice chap. I worried that this might get in the way of writing a review – I believe it did not, the book stands on its own merits.

Emilie Undead concerns Emilie Hailsham and the book is written first person. She was born in 1684, the youngest daughter of a wealthy land-owner, and despite being one hundred years earlier she could very much be described as Austen-esque. Now, there have been a lot of books recently that take Austen, or historical figures, and draw a supernatural web around them; I would not place Emilie Undead within that grouping.

She is a character of an age, and I was impressed that Lawson gave her a voice that was individual but sounded (to my ear at least) authentic. The book takes us through her last summer of life, of the vampire who comes to their village and her rebirth into undeath.

What was really quite interesting is that Emilie cannot tell us why she turned, she can offer vague guesses but no vampire can tell you. There is no apparent rhyme or reason. Most victims of an attack are dead – as an aside the vampire can heal the victim’s bite wounds, thus they are able to confound the authorities. Sometimes one will turn, it is a spontaneous event though a slow one. Emilie died in 1706 and rose in 1718. A nearby vampire will feel the newly risen as they awaken and must guide them in their new state (or kill them if they prove to be insane from bloodlust or the escape from the grave). Ranulf feels Emilie awaken from some sixty miles away, but at the speed of a vampire that is not far at all. This need to be at the rebirth reminded me, a little, of a moment in Varney the Vampire and that was no bad thing.

It would have been so easy to continue the novel in this vein, watching Emilie move through the night – for the main piece of standard lore (as well as blood drinking) is that sunlight is fiercely destructive to vampires – but then Lawson performs a literary coup d'état, and the book flows from vampire/phantasmagoria to a conspiracy driven science fiction novel. This insurgency seems so natural that one wonders why we never saw it coming and the book’s pace picks up, thundering along at a rate of knots.

There is further lore to mention, the vampires are extremely strong and can mesmerise humans. Much of the lore is what is not included. There are no transformations, religious icons hold no power for the vampires and a stake through the heart does not kill – but it does have an effect that I will leave for you to discover yourselves.

I really enjoyed this and do recommend it. A hale and hearty 7.5 out of 10.

find Emilie Undead at Amazon UK

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