*draws a deep breath*
Hello, my name is Anna and I just binge-read an entire series of vampire novels.
Oh, the shame of it! Honestly, this is not something you can just go and admit these days, is it? But it was not Twilight or The Vampire Diaries or anything by Anne Rice. It was Those Who Hunt The Night by Barbara Hambly (… and its four sequels). Not a new book, not a new author, but I had never heard of it, or of her, before in my life. Which surprises me because it’s so right up my ally, and frankly the approach to vampires that I always wanted?
Those Who Hunt The Night really has a neat little premise: It’s 1907. James Asher, middle-aged professor of philology at Oxford – and former spy – is blackmailed by a vampire, Don Simon Ysidro, into working for him. Specifically: Someone is killing the London vampires during the daylight (and via daylight), and Ysidro wants Asher to find this person. If he refuses or betrays him, Ysidro will kill his wife, Lydia. And him, too. Obviously. Since vampires have supernatural strength and speed and mind-control abilities, Asher has absolutely no choice but to cooperate. And to make his situation even worse, the other vampires are not thrilled with the idea of involving a human in their affairs. Vampires, for all their powers, are rather defenceless and vulnerable during the day, so any human who know about them poses a danger. So for the most part, Ysidro is the only thing keeping them from killing James just for his knowledge. And James quickly realizes that once he has accomplished his mission, he’ll probably get killed anyway.
The first novel is from 1988 (the fifth is from last month! I have impeccable timing), but if I had not known how old it was, I would have mistaken Those Who Hunt The Night for a recent deconstruction of current annoying vampire literature trends:
1. Vampires cannot just get around killing humans by drinking animal blood. They don’t only need human blood, they need the kill. This means that even the sympathetic vampires kill two to three humans per week. Ysidro obviously gets the most focus and development in these novels, but in this regard he, too, is unapologetic. And this leads to:
2. The moral dilemma at the core of the story. It’s no the vampire who experience it, but the humans who get involved with them! There’s a danger with stories like this that they might try to “redeem” the bad guys by simply shifting the focus away from their crimes … by glossing over them. I was worried that this would happen as James and Lydia come to rely on Ysidro’s help, and vice versa, and grow friendly (?) with him, but thank goodness they always keep the awareness that even if they are allies, this is still a killer and by working with him, they are enabling a murderer. And how much can they trust him? Can this be described as “friendship”? (I really cringe at the word in this context. I don’t think it’s friendship, I don’t think you’re quietly relieved when you believe a FRIEND is dead. You don’t try to work up the courage to kill a FRIEND … It’s not friendship.
3. Some plots are BRUTAL deconstructions of the “tragic vampire romance” idea. Vampires who present themselves as these tragic, suffering heroes who seek redemption and salvation through the love of a young woman – specifically in order to manipulate her for their own, deadly ends. Lies, all lies. It’s not romance, it’s a trap.
4. Vampires are dangerous and scary and the protagonists are terrified of them. Hooray!
5. The mythology is neatly developed and often discussed by the protagonists, who actively try to understand as much about it as they can, using their skills and backgrounds as folklorist (James) and medical doctor (Lydia).
I think Those Who Hunt The Night is good as a stand-alone novel, and I would recommend it even if you don’t want to bother with the sequels. Since I read all five books in a relativly short time and without any longer breaks between them, I have not really formed separate opinions of the stories. It’s difficult to say what I think of them … I did not always find their plots or structures as tight as they could have been. Generally, I found that I enjoyed the stories more when they took place in one city, exploring one environment, as opposed to the parts that involved a lot of travel from one place to another. I sometimes realized that I did not care about the book’s villain as much as I did about the subtle complicated tension between Asher and Ysidro. Wondering if James ever figures out if he likes or hates him … if he can keep compromising his morals by helping a vampire and accepting a vampire’s help while wondering if he’s just being manipulated …
Or my odd curiosity, wondering just how often James – poor James – could manage to get kidnapped and/or horribly injured over the course of a novel. He gets threatened, manhandled, abducted, bitten, scratched, beaten and stabbed, gets his blood drunk and his bones broken, used as bait and … and … *throws up arms* Honestly, James is in peril so much that it completely overshadows Lydia’s brief stints as a Damsel In Distress (see, for example, the premise of the first novel, as described in the beginning of this post). Both of them are really in over their head. They do their best, but still … James may be intelligent, resourceful and brave, but he is frequently surrounded by supernaturally powerful vampires who could easily kill him. So is Lydia, but she usually gets out of it with less horrible injuries and traumas. Some protagonists are made to suffer …
I could ramble on forever. I shouldn’t. I am not getting any more coherent.
So. What do I read now? When is the next book coming out? Surely there’ll be a sequel? I want to know how James’ decision is going to work out for him. (Can I guess? LOL.)
P.S.: Please to be spell-checking the German words and names in the future. There are a LOT of mistakes that truly don’t have to be there. I cannot speak for the other languages, but the French seemed quite correct to me, which makes the many mistakes in the German extra jarring … And your protagonist is a linguist! Come on. ;)