Wednesday, April 28, 2010
The Extraordinary Adventures of Emma Andrews, Victorian Lady and Vampire Hunter
A young widow with an uncertain inheritance; a mysterious guest with unclear motives; a child in peril; and the dark, rain-lashed moors - all set the mood for this first novel in an historical gothic series in which a Victorian woman discovers that she is a vampire hunter
Twenty-five year old widow Emma Andrews grew up in the shadow of her mother's madness, so when she arrives at Dulwich Manor in the midst of a plague and soon thereafter begins to see apparitions, her family fears fate has finally caught up with her. But one guest among them knows Emma's visions are more than a trick of the mist. Valerian Fox has hunted the great vampire lord Marius through time and continents, and he knows that Emma's senses are heightened by a legacy that runs through her blood.
When Emma's young cousin is marked for death, Emma and Valerian must disregard propriety to prepare for battle. Poised at the intersection of life and death, uncertain of who she can trust, Emma finds that in order to save the most innocent among them she must embrace the inheritance she has feared and denied.
I've developed a devotion to Victorian mysteries lately, and on top of that, I've also grown to love historical paranormals - Descent into Dust is the best of both worlds - as if the two genres are combined. Descent is a paranormal mystery in which Emma Andrews, a young widow of noble birth during Victorian times must get to the bottom of the sinister presence that has enveloped her cousin's country home and the surrounding village.
As the story develops, Emma realizes that her cousin's young daughter, Henrietta is the target of this sinister presence. An innocent, Henrietta speaks of a nightly visitor that raps at her window. Marius, the visitor, tries to get in and befriend her. Her nursemaid is protective of her and distrusts Emma's concerns. The family thinks the young girl has just made up an imaginary friend. It doesn't help that most of the household thinks Emma is susceptible to becoming crazy herself, since her mother had gone crazy and died when Emma was a young girl. If Emma starts alarming the house about ghosts and evil spirits - much less vampires - she'll be carted off to Bedlam! The story definitely has a Gothic tone, and I saw many similarities to The Turn of the Screw, only in this case, it turns out that Marius is a powerful vampire and Emma uncovers many truths about herself. She finds out what really happened to her mother and father, and who they were. To top it all off, she also discovers she is a Dhampir - a vampire hunter who must somehow destroy Marius.
Thankfully Emma doesn't have to do this all by herself. She has the help of the enigmatic Valerius Fox (love the name!) who is visiting Dulwich Manor. As Emma comes to learn more about Valerius, after flipping back and forth on whether she should trust him or not, he reveals that he has been hunting Marius himself since he was a teenager after nearly dying at the vampire's hands. Another comrade in arms is the flamboyant Sebastian, the ne'er do well and very gay brother of the master of the house. There is also a mysterious priest, Father Luke that comes to their aide - all to foil the attempts of the evil Marius who wants to achieve even greater power. As it turns out, Dulwich Manor seems to be perched on top of the paranormal equivalent of the San Andreas Fault. A great evil is trapped in a hawthorn tree on the estate and Marius is trying to release it so he can then drink it's blood and take on it's colossal power. It's complicated but makes sense. It all comes to a head at the end of the book, with wooden stakes, holy water and lots of blood - but I won't spoil the ending for you.
I liked the book, but it did not have the same power and punch that other authors such as Colleen Gleason, Tasha Alexander or Deanna Raybourn have. I like a romantic interest for the heroine and the relationship that develops between Valerius and Emma shows promise, but it is still too oblique, there is no sexual tension between them that I can detect. He has secrets of his own and his character is painted in such a way that I'm not even sure if I want him to develop as a love interest for Emma or not. He is dark and handsome in a stark sort of way, but he needs further romantic embellishment, right now he's kind of coming across as weak and untrustworthy, he has issues which I won't divulge and I'm not sure if he's going to be able to overcome them or not.
The book is eerie, even scary in parts, as in Dracula rather than a romanticized vampire tale. Yet I had no trouble putting the book down. I was curious about what would happen, but it didn't have me on the edge of my seat. It lacked that certain something, though well written and the settings and locales were well done. At one point, Emma flees to France, which was sort of a weird little interlude away from the action. A bit clumsy, but I see the point of it. Emma has the makings of a strong heroine, she's already on her way, but she needs more "oomph!" I felt we were arms length from her, it's hard to describe - she's aloof from the reader. But, I think as the series goes on she will be a stronger character. By the end of the book, she manages to earn the respect of her family, they no longer believe she's insane, in fact she has their eternal gratitude, except for her younger self absorbed sister. I felt like slapping her through most of the book - she gives Anne Elliot's sister Mary from Austen's Persuasion a run for the money!
This is the beginning of a series for Emma. Here we've gotten the introduction to her and her background, her past marriage, her relationship with her family and ultimately how she learns of her vampire hunter powers and copes with the knowlege. She needs further training to hone her skills. I'm sure the future books in the series will have her traveling all over the world in pursuit of Marius with the help of her friends. It holds promise and I believe will become more and more interesting as the main characters are flushed out more. I look forward to the rest of the books as they come out and will definitely read them.