Bantam Books, trade p/b, £12.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
Vampires are back in all their brutal nastiness in this series set in Imperial Russia. The year is 1955, the year after the infamous charge of the Light Brigade. The Russian army is besieged atSevastopolby the French and the British. One of their officers is Dmitry Danilov.
Readers familiar with Jasper Kent’s books so far will know that Dmitry’s father, Aleksei, first worked with a team in 1812 during Bonaparte’s retreat from Moscow, the members of which turned out to be vampires. Their story was told in Twelve. In Thirteen Years Later, Aleksei gets caught up in the Decembrist movement which is plotting to overthrow the Tsar. He is also aware of another plot against the Tsar: The oldest of the vampires, Zmyeevich, once made a pact with Peter the Great in which if the Tsar drank Zmyeevich’s blood, he would become a vampire and be a puppet ruler to the old vampire’s domination. Tsar Peter cheated him but the potential was still there in his descendents and vampires can be very patient.
In Sevastopol, Dmitry, with the knowledge his father gave him, comes to realise that one of his friends is a vampire. As the army returns toMoscow, so do the vampires.
As with any worthwhile series two things are built in. Each book has a conclusion which folds up the prominent issues while leaving a hook to draw the reader onto the next book. It also incorporates factors from previous volumes which shape the way the characters behave in a new situation. At the end of Thirteen Years Later, Aleksei was exiled toSiberia. His mistress followed him leaving behind their daughter, Tamara. Thirty years later much of the plot revolves around her. Tamara has been brought up by the family of one of Aleksei’s old friends to believe that they are her parents. Some childhood memory has convinced her that this is not true and she becomes obsessed in finding out who her real parents are. Also, through the actions of unscrupulous government officials, she is lured into becoming a member of the Third Section,Russia’s secret service. The head of the Third Section is a man that Dmitry has known from childhood and it is inevitable that when both he and Tamara are inMoscow, their paths will eventually cross.
JasperKentis very good with history, blending recorded fact with plausible fiction based on rumour such as the secret faked death of Tsar Aleksandr and adding in the mix of horror fantasy. In this turbulent period, when wars rakedEurope, it would be very easy for vampires to feed on the dying without detection. The creatures here do not totally conform to the traditional image: yes, direct sunlight will burn them but not diffused daylight, they do not reflect in mirrors (for whichKenthas an explanation), and they are warm to the touch and have heartbeats, which makes it easier to mingle with their prey. They are of the nasty variety, having no scruples about killing. To fall in love with one just postpones the moment when you become lunch and there is no nonsense about having to sleep in native soil or be scared off by crosses or garlic. Where he is perhaps less sure is when he is writing from Tamara’s view point. There is not enough richness to convince me of her femininity.
In general, though, this is a book that can be enjoyed at many levels.