Sunday, November 01, 2015

The Masks of Monsters – review

Author: Narayan Liu

First published: 2014

Contains spoilers

The blurb: In 18th century Europe, Darius, a young man who commits a heinous murder and flees on a self-imposed exile, encounters Aeron, a monstrous vampire who snatches him away from the world he once knew and hurls him into a new one full of demonic creatures and merciless warlords. So it is he fights to escape this terrible world as well as the monster he has become. He isn't the only one. Aeron, though renowned for being the paragon of his race, battles the flicker of doubt that emerges in himself. It has been so long since he was human and for so long he has soaked in death without mercy, shielding himself away from the guilt and regret. Now it is time to face the beast within.

What are monsters truly made of?

The review: A novella, and I think that it is the length of the book that causes this effort to struggle a little but that is set against a lot to praise the book for. The author, in the preface, tells us that the aim was to write short stories but the story kept expanding and it has left us with a rich little story that follows the fortunes of Darius, as he becomes a vampire, and Aeron an older vampire whose view of life has descended into bloody cynicism.

The older vampires all have permanent wings, causing Darius to believe Aeron to be a demon when they first meet – little surprise as Darius had just committed patricide. For some reason the elder vampires are trapped in the winged form, though they used to be able to transform, and they do not teach the younger vampires the skill of metamorphosis any longer. Decapitation, exposure to strong sunlight and destruction of the heart seem to be the primary killing methods. There are non-standard vampires… the Starved are a shock troop of vampires, turned insane through blood starvation, and the vampires of a colony called Whitegarden are bred for seduction and are known as succubae.

The author draws a world around us that sees France being an independent vampire colony ruled by a despotic high lord, flanked around by a vampire empire. We see machinations within France as they prepare for war with the empire, with revolution a possibility, whilst some look to sue for peace with the empire. There are other telepathic vampires who try and manipulate all of this. All this comes along with the exploration of what makes someone a monster and who the worst monsters are.

The prose is rich and I was, at times, reminded on the works of Tanith Lee (which is high praise indeed) and the background story seems as compelling as it is wide and interesting. However, the book falls over here as there is perhaps too much scope and the short length feels less like a chapter in the author’s story and more like a pre-amble to a main event still to come. This may be no bad thing if the world is expanded on but in terms of this volume it leaves the reader frustrated as there was so much more the book could have explored. 7 out of 10.

Incidentally – though it doesn’t impact score (and one should never judge a book by its cover) I was very taken with the cover for this volume.

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