Friday, September 15, 2006

Descendant – review

Author: Graham Masterton

Released: 2006

Contains Spoilers

Californian James Falcon sits and writes his memoirs for his Grandson, tales of exploits that he has been ordered by his Government never to reveal. The son of Romanian immigrants and brought up hearing the folktales of that region from his mother, in 1943 he writes a college paper regarding the strigoï. He writes it as a joke but it receives a limited publication. US counter-intelligence approaches him and, not having a real choice in the matter, he ends up in Europe, tracking down the monsters that are infiltrating Resistance Cells and spreading their infection on behalf of the Nazis.

One powerful strigoï, Dorin Dorca, escapes and in 1957 James is called upon by his Government once more. Dorca is infecting people in London and The US and UK want him stopped before the Russians get wind of it and track the creature down first.

This book is an astounding read, but being somewhat of a detective story as well as a horror novel I do not want to reveal too much. What I can reveal, without blowing the book, is the wonderful way that Masterton has treated the vampire (or Screechers, as James refers to them) myth.

His vampires are strigoï, and he makes a definitive distinction between strigoï vii and strigoï mort – an unusual move in itself. In Masterton’s version the vii are infected but alive, desperate to drink blood they appear to be rotting but are incapable of spreading their infection. Masterton points out that lack of a reflection is a myth but, as silver is so pure, when looked at in a silver mirror the strigoï vii look like they were before infection.

When the rot is advanced a strigoï vii will beg a strigoï mort, a dead vampire, to be allowed to drink its blood once more. The strigoï morts infect humans through either saliva or blood but their blood is poisonous to a vii and completes the transformation to mort. Once a mort they appear beautiful, but the silvered mirror reflects their true face (Masterton suggests, in the novel, that Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Grey” was based on stories of the strigoï).

Both are strong and fast, though the mort is stronger and faster, and the mort can pass through the thinnest of openings. Depending on the strigoï they might be able to run up walls and crawl upon ceilings. They can both daywalk, in fact the mort has poor night vision and must create a mystical pendant to improve its night vision. Masterton makes the distinction between strigoï and nosferatu, who cannot venture into the sun, as different types of vampires.

James has a vampire hunting kit and a pistol whose bullets, allegedly, are made from the goblet drunk from by the disciples at the last supper. The kit itself contains a Romanian bible, a flask of holy oil, silver thumb and toe screws, a silver compass (which acts as a strigoï compass), a silver wire whip, a surgical saw, mustard seeds, paint (to paint extra eyes upon dogs), a silver mirror, dental forceps, a sculptor’s mallet and more importantly three nine inch nails. The nails allegedly were the nails used to nail Christ to the cross. The nails, hammered through the eyes and into the brain, will paralyse the vampire.

You see, in this, the strigoï are difficult, if not impossible, to kill. A strigoï must have its head sawed off. A vii would then have its body buried in consecrated ground whereas a mort must be cut into at least four pieces, each piece buried separately. The head is then boiled until the flesh sloughs away and the brains turn to broth. It is also clear that there is definitive supernatural element to this story, whilst they talk of infection the story is not science based.

The strigoï are animalistic and violent but also fiercely intelligent. In England they are ripping whole families, sometimes more, apart, tearing open their chests, removing the hearts and drinking from the aorta.

Of course, the way strigoï are portrayed by Masterton is different to the myth form I know, as they were subtly portrayed in the masterpiece Viy (1967). That said, the author is well within his/her rights to play with the myth – especially if it works – and there are similes between myth and Masterton’s vision. In myth the strigoï vii are essentially witches and psychic vampires, portrayed by hags. Whilst Masterton creates a blood drinking, rotting vampire there is a resonance with the concept of the hag. Again, in the myths, the strigoï mort is the vampire, as we more properly know them, and certainly – whilst blood drinking was stripped from the film – Viy portrays the mort as a beautiful young girl. Masterton’s morts achieve a perfect visage.

There is more that Masterton has done with the myth, but to reveal it might reveal too much plot. Suffice it to say that he has taken the vampire and recreated it as a vicious killer, something that, again, can be terrifying. This book needs to be turned into a film, by a filmmaker willing and brave enough to graphically follow the book – ratings be damned.

The characterisation is strong, the characters believable and, more importantly, flawed and the writing style is excellent.

8.5 out of 10 for a book that has reinvented the myth and injected much of the horror that seems, sadly, to have been missing in the endless deluge of vampire romances and books about vampires with consciences.

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