It’s Vampire Fiction, but not as you know it…but not as you know it
I don’t know about you, but I really miss the days when Vampire stories were actually frightening. My very favourite Vampire experience of all time was seeing Coppola’s “Dracula” at the cinema with a friend who, part-way into the film, passed out cold in his seat. (It turned out we’d accidentally brought a hemaphobic to see a Vampire film. He was finally finished off by the transfusion scene, and spent the rest of the evening slumped peacefully across his girlfriend’s welcoming bosom, where we left him because we assumed they were just, you know…busy…and she was furious with us for not helping us prop him up and bring him round so she could enjoy the rest of the film, and wouldn’t speak to any of us for weeks.)
Anyway. As I remember it, that was the last time anyone I knew was properly frightened by a Vampire story. After that, it all went downhill. We got Vampires who live off rats and chickens (Interview with the Vampire), Vampire blood-banks (“Blade”), Vampire Soya protein (“True Blood”), Vampires who just drink a little bit from consenting-adult lovers in return for awesome sex (“Undead and Unwed”), Vampires who only eat free-range meat from sustainable sources (“Twilight” and “The Vampire Diaries”). We’ve had Vampires who can go out in daylight and sleep wherever they damn well please; we’ve had Vampires who never sleep, and pass the lonely night-hours in protecting frail humans from spiders and composing musical masterpieces. We’ve had Vampires who go to High School, Vampires who work in hospitals, Vampires who go to church, Vampires you can take home to meet your parents, Vampires who want to marry you and spend Eternity raising rug-rats for your werewolf boyfriend to fall in love with.
Admittedly, there have been a few moments of cinematic brilliance – like the creepy magic that was “Let The Right One In”. For the written word, however…maybe not so much. After a decade of Edward and Stefan throwing themselves artistically around the place and declaring themselves to be monsters because, um, well, just because, okay? – I was starting to wonder if there was ever, ever, ever going to be a decent Vampire book ever again. “Vampire” was becoming official shorthand for “cool good-looking Emo guy with a fast car and an expensive wardrobe”. Even Cronin’s “The Passage” – which is ace, and which I reviewed here – is still far more like a Zombie story than it is like a Vampire one.
And now, there’s “Blood Fugue”, and my faith in the literary possibilities of Vampires has been restored.
In the isolated community of Hobson’s Valley, Jimmy Kerrigan lives a reclusive outdoorsy existence growing vegetables, directing hikers and obsessively making dream-catcher things he refers to as “binders”. Although he doesn’t know it, he’s the heir to a long line of vampire hunters who can access the power of Lethe, giving them the strength they need to combat “the Fugue” – a disease of the blood native to Hobson’s Valley, which gives its victims a periodic insatiable craving for the bodily fluids of others. As the story unfolds, Jimmy discovers his destiny and undertakes a desperate battle with a huge outbreak of Fugue, threatening to overwhelm his valley and escape into the wider world.
Like all the best genre fiction, “Blood Fugue” takes what’s been done before, and mixes it up a bit. Dreamy misfit with unsuspected Speshul destiny? Check. Teenage morality play? Check. Isolated community with lax law-enforcement practices? Check. Wandering foreigners? Check. Vignettes of ordinary townies being overwhelmed by seductive Vampires? Check. Beautiful exotic females? Check.
This isn’t a criticism, by the way; I’m saying this with deep and utter admiration. The brilliance of “Blood Fugue” isn’t the new stuff it brings (although the Eco-War aspect of the story is definitely a lovely bonus). It’s the life it brings to the old stuff; the way it makes it all seem new and exciting and surprising, even though you kinda know what’s coming up next. The writing is pacey, punchy and super-tight, drawing you into a story that’s both mythic and believable.
One aspect of the story I particularly love is the whole notion that the Vampires – or Fugues – don’t actually know they’re infected. When the blood-lust comes over them, they experience a kind of mental black-out (I suppose the concept I’m reaching for here is fugue state, ho hum) that lasts for the whole of their feeding episode. When it passes, they have no memory of where they’ve been, or what it was they were doing. The Fugue state comes and goes, waxing and waning according to the mysterious rhythms of the disease – so the Fugues could be absolutely anyone, at any moment. It’s a great rendition of the Vampire legend, a whole new way to play with the horror of discovering you’re secretly a monster.
I also love the setting of Hobson’s Valley. I’m a Brit, so I believe in the existence of off-grid American small towns the way Icelanders believe in elves. I honestly don’t know if this plays equally well for US audiences, or if it’s just one of those annoying Hollywood tropes no-one seems to be able to get rid of. But – having loved the early chapters of “Dracula”, where we’re basically roaming around the Carpathians and having the locals wave things in our faces and make mysterious threats – I was thrilled to read a Vampire story that didn’t feel the need to drag everything into the bright lights of the city.
One of the paradoxes of the Vampire myth is why on earth we, as a species, find the myth of creatures who basically only want to eat us so incredibly sexy. (And there’s no getting away from it; we do. Look me in the eye and tell me you think Mina Harker was actually happy with Jonathan after she’d tried Dracula on for size. No, I thought not.) Again, the recent trend in fiction has been to take all the horror out of it, creating romances which are quite literally bloodless. If Edward and Bella’s chaste face-stroking had you wanting to clobber both of them around the head with (for example) a marble rolling-pin, this book is definitely the antidote you’ve been waiting for.
There’s nothing dainty or romantic about D’Lacey’s Vampiric encounters; they’re hot and horrifying all at once. The Fugues are looking for every human fluid they can get their tendrils into – blood, piss, menstrual fluid, breast-milk – and they use sexual pleasure as an anaesthetic to prevent their victims realising they’re being harvested. One reviewer said they will “make you cringe and wonder what kind of twisted person wrote this tale”, which I thought was overcooking it a bit (maybe this says more about me than it does about “Blood Fugue”, I don’t know). But d’Lacey’s writing is definitely sexy, terrifying and very, very visceral.
So, was there anything I didn’t like about this book? Maybe just a couple of things. Firstly, the rendering of the Jimenez family grated at times. The Jimenezes are Spanish, so it’s perfectly fair that, when they’re speaking English, their dialogue is stilted and formal. But when they’re talking to each other (presumably in their mother tongue), surely that formality should disappear? Phrases like “How could you oversleep like this, Jose?” or “I really think that if we keep a strong pace we might be back by tomorrow night” felt a bit like that weird movie trope where characters speak English in a foreign accent to avoid the need for subtitles.
Secondly, and after loving every single page of the build-up – I was sort of bored by the big all-action climax. This isn’t a reflection on the writing, which is as tight, charged and evocative as the rest of the book. It’s just that…well, let’s be honest; when the outcome isn’t really in doubt (and generally speaking, heroes don’t fail), it’s hard to be utterly gripped by the details of exactly who chopped off which bit of whom, using what bony protrusion. End-of-level bosses are great for video games, but they don’t really work in fiction.
Ah, I’m nit-picking; this book is just glorious. I read it over Hallowe’en week, and I was absolutely hooked from the first page. It’s a fantastic read for this time of year, when everything gets colder and darker, and the idea of monsters starts to feel a whole lot more likely. The cover endorsement, from Stephen King (Stephen King!!! As an author, how unbelievably excellent must that feel?) reads simply, “Joseph D’Lacey rocks”. And, based on the evidence of “Blood Fugue”, he certainly does.
You can buy “Blood Fugue” from Amazon for the extremely reasonable price of £6.74.