Those Who Hunt the Night
By Barbara Hambly
This is an excellent vampire book. There are a lot of fun vampire books, but this one is actually good. I love the characters, I love the way they interact, and I especially love the way that the author presents the vampire characters.
The book is set in Edwardian England and our main character is Oxford professor James Asher. He’s living a calm quite life, but has a rather gritty past as a secret agent for the British government. At the start of this book, the vampire Don Simon Ysidro approaches Asher, informs him that (1) vampires exist, (2) someone has been hunting the vampires of London, and (3) Asher is going to be Ysidro’s agent in tracking down the hunter or Ysidro is going to kill Asher’s wife Lydia. The plot progresses from there.
The problem with vampires (as it were) is that they eat people. Humans are their prey. There just can’t be any sort of natural alliances between predator and prey. Most vampire stories hand wave this away: the vampire just feels terrible about it, or refrains from following his natural urges, or some such. This book, though, directly confronts the fact that these vampires kill people; both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ vampires kill people. The alliance between Asher and Ysidro is necessarily deeply coercive and fraught.
Very much related to the previous point, I like a certain amount of ruthlessness in my characters. I don’t want them to be mean or cruel, but I like characters who are smart and determined and accept personal responsibility for their actions and the repercussions of those actions. Asher, Ysidro, and Lydia are all like this. They have goals and they do what they need to do in order to achieve those goals. They know what risks they take with their actions and they are very careful in how and what they do.
Another wonderful thing about this book and these characters is that Lydia, Asher’s wife, is an excellent character in her own right and the marriage between her and Asher is equitable. They not only love each other but they also respect and support each other. They are honest and forthright with each other. They trust each other, not just to be faithful, but to be capable.
Anyway, the investigation that makes up the actual plot itself was good, but what makes this book shine are the characters and their interactions with each other. I definitely recommend it.
I agree with all of your points here, and I really wanted to like this book because of your very good points. You liked it, your friend liked it, and I’ve been on a quest to find a good series of historical vampire/werewolf books. But, once again, the style of writing got in the way, and I felt like I had to drag myself through it. It was just too florid! All the unnecessary adjectives and descriptive paragraphs break up the action to the extent that I would forget whole plot points. We’d be in the tomb, investigating the combusted vampire remains, and after a paragraph about the lead vampire’s labyrinthian eyes (?!) and ironic voice, I wouldn’t even remember where we were or what was going on by the time we finally got back to any action verbs.
On only the second page, the hero is “noiseless as the Isis mists that cloaked the town,” and I knew I was in for a bumpy ride. Here’s the thing: noire-type authors, with their minimalist writing style, will tell you something once and then expect you to remember it. And I will! I don’t need to be reminded half a dozen times that the vampires topaz eyes held a fascination for the hero; I remember from the first time and I can then just extrapolate that it keeps happening.
Off my soapbox, though: once the action really kicked in (about halfway through the book), I did actually enjoy the book a fair amount, and I didn’t guess the ending at all. I probably won’t continue with the series, though, unless, of course you tell me that any of them are particularly good.
Hee, I do like me some florid prose. And as for noire-writers, just one of the problems with them is that their characters don’t change: If they thought something at the beginning of the book, they’ll think the exact same thing at the end. Anyway, I’m glad you were able to persevere through this. I always find it frustrating when I find a book that I should like but just can’t enjoy the style.