Monday, June 19, 2017

Heart of the Deep Cave: and Other Romantic Vampire Tales – review

Author: April Drusiana

First Published: 2017

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: • ”Heart of the Deep Cave”: in the depths of Lechuguilla, in New Mexico, a young woman scientist enters a newly-discovered room filled with all the wonders of the earth — but also a sad shock: a handsome young man lies in the sand, appearing dead…

• ”The Call of Destiny”: in 1192, a wounded English Crusader enters the secluded town of Vasaria in Eastern Europe. There he falls in love with the beautiful herbalist who heals him. He vows to repay his debt to the town by slaying the Lord of the looming Dark Tower, who thirsts for blood. When the loyal knight does not return, his betrothed faces a heart-rending decision…

• ”A Vampire in Auschwitz”: in 1944, a young woman raised in an Orthodox Jewish community has decided to increase her chances of surviving the Nazi occupation in a most unholy way: by becoming an estrie. Now in a death-camp, she struggles to maintain her conscience….

• ”Moonlight Meeting”: in medieval Vasaria, the lovers continue their quest to remain together despite the scheming of an evil spirit, and the harsh decrees announced by an angel….

• ”Away from the Light”: in 21st-century Tucson, Arizona, a happily married mother of three suffers a needle-prick from a mysterious patient, then a car accident. After a near-death experience, she discovers that she has undergone a terrifying transformation, to which some people never adjust. Forced to steal blood from sleepers, and longing for true death, she searches for the secret — if there is one — to make her existence fulfilling once again.…

Fans of sympathetic vampires will enjoy this interestingly varied collection of tales. They offer innovative approaches to the “rules” of vampirism and emotionally vivid portrayals of characters struggling to accept their undead condition, to develop successful relationships in the world of mortals, and to find meaning in their dark existence.

The review: Heart of the Deep Cave is a collection of shorts by April Drusiana and the Amazon blurb gives a comprehensive explanation of each story. The stories themselves are concentrated on the sympathetic vampire and, like all collections, has highs and lows (though I’ll stress not too low).

Unfortunately, for me the first story, which offers the volume its title, is probably the weakest of the collection. Of a paranormal romance bent it clearly carries a romance wish fulfilment at its core. However it was the dialogue, often feeling forced and regrettably artificial, that took me out of the story. The story itself was based on an interesting idea – that a vampire sought the depths of a cave system in which to hibernate and is stumbled across by caver scientists. The story lacked a supernatural peril (the basis could have opened into a claustrophobic ten little Indians story, which would have destroyed the sympathetic vampire premise of course. Alternatively, as the possibility of another undead inhabitant was touched on there could have been threat and defence built in) and the reaction of the characters felt too idealised.

My favourite two stories, in reverse order, were Away from the Light and A Vampire in Auschwitz. Away from the Light did clever lore things with the turning process, which I definitely enjoyed, and had characters I found interesting. A Vampire in Auschwitz was by far the strongest story in the book.

Despite clearly being out of the author’s frame of experience, set as it was in a Concentration Camp during the holocaust, it was excellently written with authentic sounding voices and a strong narrative. Using the vampire type the estrie was interesting. Described in story as the “Spawn of Lilith” and clearly a turned woman, Bane describes the creature as “The estrie is from the lore from the medieval era. Considered a vampiric demon or vampiric spirit, the estrie is a noncorporeal mass of evil that can assume human female form.” It was nice to get a different type of vampire and the idea of using her condition to both survive the camp and help others survive was well realised – as was the issues her condition caused. She was ultra-sensitive to the stench of the camp, her shaved hair grew back way too quickly and the physical change to her genitalia (no longer suitable for intercourse) led to issues, and a brutal sexual assault.

So, as I suggested at the head, a mixed bunch but even the weaker story had aspects to commend it. The stories I haven’t covered were all interesting in their own ways, and I like the way the author radically mixed up the lore story to story, but the volume is worth it for A Vampire in Auschwitz alone. 7 out of 10.

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