It's a bit unfair to B.E. Scully to kick off my review by saying the book was a disappointment, because ultimately the blame doesn't lie with the author, it lies with other reviewers. Verland has been on my radar for some time, at last since I reviewed Michael Rowe's Enter, Night back in November, 2014. In that time I read a number of reviews for Verland, many of them united in trumpeting the novel as a departure from the romantic vampires of Anne Rice, Charlaine Harris, and Stephenie Meyer. Several described it as a return to the traditional vampire, a la Stoker or King. I suppose this just goes to show how far things like Twilight and The Southern Vampire Mysteries have really lowered the bar, because once again in Verland we have a sympathetic, attractive vampire protagonist wrestling with his transformation, looking for meaning, and stealing a page from Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, caught up in the schemes of the novel's true antagonist...a human being. The titular vampire is never even a threat.
The story follows true crime writer Elle Bramasol, mysteriously selected to write about a high-profile murder committed by a Jerry Bruckheimer-esque movie mogul, Eliot Kingman. Kingman, apparently, singled her out to write it even though she isn't terribly well-known. Instead of spilling his guts when she goes to meet him in prison, he directs her to his mansion, where his wife and a creepy research assistant give her access to an antique journal. This is, apparently, a vampire diary, beginning the story-within-a-story saga of Verland from his transformation to the present day. The diary portions of the novel are told, as with Anne Rice, in the first person. To make a long story short, Kingman discovered the journal, tracked down the vampire, and like any narcissistic Hollywood type on a permanent power trip tried using it to blackmail Verland into giving him immortality.
All in all, it's a well-told story. The vampire diary bits are a bit rushed and thin, and the human characters come off a bit two-dimensional (the gay agent, the surfer-turned-policeman-on-again-off-again-boyfriend-who-is-a-decent-guy-and-is-waiting-for-Elle-to-settle-down, and Elle herself, whose only character flaw seems to be lingering sorrow over her mother's death), but a it is a page turner. It might have even been an enjoyable read if I hadn't kept waiting for it to become a horror novel, or live up to its "return to classic vampirism" praise. But Verland doesn't belong on the shelf with Stoker or King (Michael Rowe does); it belongs right there with Rice, Harris, and Meyer.
To be fair it is a novel with something to say. Death sucks, and grief is painful, but it is also a part of life, and the alternative--undeath--isn't a solution as much as just a delay of the inevitable. This message makes the novel more philosophical and melancholic than anything else, and Verland never reaches the intensity or fever pitch Anne Rice's Interview With The Vampire did exploring the same theme. It is hard to see how anyone could come away from the book with a "wow" reaction.
If you like sympathetic vampire fiction, read Verland. It is certainly better than a lot of what it out there. But a return to classic vampires? Not even close.
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