Saturday, October 06, 2012

House of Shadows – review

Author: Walter Spence

First published: 2012

Contains spoilers

The blurb (Kindle): Befriended as a young teenager by a beautiful and mysterious benefactress, Eugene Evans believes the downward trajectory of his white trash existence has finally been arrested and his life turned around. Then, after he becomes a man, he is confronted by a horrifying and unavoidable choice between two unacceptable options.

But it doesn't stop there.

For once his decision has been made, and the consequences accepted, he finds himself in a new and terrifying reality threatening all that he loves, where his first wrong choice will be his last. . . .

(paperback): The Sleeper has awakened, hear the call! Houses, witness the breaking of the seal. To part his flesh, the edge of doom shall fall, And spill his blood, his purpose to reveal.

Their origins lie in a distant and almost forgotten past. Though humanity refers to them as vampires, they have long had another name for themselves. The Breed.

Since the days of Coloque, the Separation, they have dwelled among us (but not of us), hidden by a protective cloak of ignorance and superstition which has shielded them as their wealth and power have grown.

Their society is represented by twelve Great Houses, each a law unto themselves, answering to no one outside of their own familial walls for untold centuries. Those days are no more. For a hidden terror has surfaced, threatening Breed and human alike. One by one the scions of House Ember have vanished, swallowed by a secret and frigid darkness now threatening those Houses which yet remain. And their last hope has lain somnolent for decades within the shimmering clouds of a silver dream. Until now. For the Sleeper has awakened.

The review: In case you are wondering why two blurbs, the answer lies in me looking to Amazon for the blurb – having read the kindle edition of Walter Spence’s novel – the kindle blurb seemed… lacking… the paperback blurb concerned with the vampire society but not our main character.

House of Shadows is a book of many parts. As it starts we follow the life of Eugene Evans, a poor kid from a dysfunctional family whose main concern seems to be looking out for his kid sister, Barb. This is until he meets a mysterious benefactor who could be said to be grooming him… but from afar… Eugene tells us his story as he awakens from death. This part of the tale is pure Americana, a coming of age reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird or the start of Laymon’s The Travelling Vampire Show in tone. That is until his benefactor kills him.

When he awakens, and kills, he discovers that he has been dead for thirty years. He is a vampire – though they call themselves the Breed – and he finds himself thrust into a new world where he doesn’t know the rules and finds himself the last of his noble house and hunted by unknown enemies. As well as this turn in style he will find himself in the clutches of the oldest of the Houses in a section that, if anything, reminded me of the Golden. Towards the end we discover there might be something worse than the Breed and we hit an almost Lovecraftian hint. All this is not to say that I found the book derivative, far from it, just awash in tonally different (and strangely complementary) movements.

Lore-wise most Breed are created without killing. If someone is fed Breed blood and killed, however, they rise the following night (all except Eugene that is). The act of feeding seems to prolong their human servant’s lives. Sunlight will kill, eventually, but the Breed are very hard to destroy – we hear of a head that survived the guillotine and was thrown into a fire to then slowly burn, consciousness still for some time intact, as the flesh resists (but does not defy) flame. Garlic causes a narcotic, stupefying effect.

The writing was strong throughout and I loved the different tones that Spence added into the book as well as the complex Breed society and history that was rather unique and felt well thought out. Definitely worth a read. 7.5 out of 10.

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