Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mercy: the Last New England Vampire – review

Author: Sarah L. Thomson

First published: 2011

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD HALEY BROWN is struggling to cope. She’s got a new stepmom, her cousin is dying from a terminal illness, and the boy she likes is dating her best friend.

But that’s nothing compared to what she uncovers when she digs deep into her family history for a school project. Now she’s got a blood-stained glove, eerie messages on the TV screen, and ghostly images on her camera. Just what—or who—has Haley unearthed?

Inspired by a true story, Mercy explores a disturbing New England tradition that will make you think twice about what lies beyond the grave.

The review: Though the blurb sounds rather mysterious, the core story that has inspired this book (probably best described as young adult in tone) is one that readers of TMtV will know. The story of Mercy Brown – or more specifically the events post her death from tuberculosis – have been catalogued in the reference works Food for the Dead and Vampires of New England (both of which are recommended in an afterword to this book). A contemporary news-clipping that mentions the incident was kept by Bram Stoker in his notes for Dracula. Thomson plays around with the number of siblings and the relative ages but, otherwise, tries to keep her backstory in line with the known facts.

Her central tale is about Hayley – distantly related to Mercy – who discovers a little more than she bargained for when she researches her ancestor for a school history project. If I am honest, whilst the character certainly had a lot in her life (mentioned in the blurb) I found her somewhat whingey and thus my sympathy was perhaps a little on hold. Her cousin is terminally ill from an un-diagnosable blood disease (and I think we can all guess what the cause of that will turn out to be)…

That said I don’t want to spoil too much, I liked some plot twisting Thomson played with and don’t want to undermine it. I do need to mention a few of pieces of lore, however, one concerns vampires feeding on their own family rather than strangers, another being that turning is a matter of wanting to be a vampire, so long as the person has a strong enough will, and the last being that vampires do not like to step on graves for fear that they will be reclaimed.

The book is a swift read, but then it isn’t too big a novel and the prose is designed to be a little unsophisticated due to the target audience. Not that the prose is bad in any way.

Most of all I liked the fact that this used the legend/tale of Mercy and was respectful to the past whilst building a story that will serve to introduce kids to that American variety of vampire folklore. 6.5 out of 10.

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