Victorian London. An old and crumbling house, two orphan children raised by an elderly aunt. A love story, smothered before it has time to grow, and a terrible secret carefully kept for long years. Vampires.
James and Charlotte Norbury grow up in the family’s great house. Their mother is dead, their father absent most of the time until he comes home to die of an unknown ailment. Raised by their aunt, they live in her house and they separate when James goes to school and then to London. He’s a writer, and spends his days scribbling poems and working on a play. He meets Christopher Paige and they share rooms together, forming an interesting friendship that later turns into something more. They are vigilant but can’t escape the knowing look of Christopher’s brother, Eustace, who threatens James. Soon after, James and Christopher are attacked by vampires and only James survives. He is taken to the Aegolius, an exclusive club for gentlemen – a dark, decadent building, its inhabitants a curious mix of men, most of them in their youth, but wearing clothes that had gone out of fashion a few generations back. Their purpose is not very clear at first, but as their new leader becomes more interested in his newly acquired powers, their plan begins to take shape.
After their aunt dies, Charlotte is worried by the lack of news from her brother. She goes to London to find him but when she does she will have to resort to all the courage she has in order to bring him home safely. She gets help from a strange crew of people – Arthur Howland, who owes James his life, Adeline and Shadwell, united in their grief, a mutilated vampire, and a band of vampires known as the Alia.
The novel starts slowly and at first focuses on James and Charlotte. Other characters come into the story, their roles more or less defined but all important nevertheless. There’s Mould, whose fascination for research in all things vampire gives him quite the reputation and a nickname: Doctor Knife; Porlock, the woman who takes care of Burke, the mutilated vampire; Treadwell, the lone old servant of the Aegolius; Edmund, the new chairman of the club who has grand plans for an expansion; Liza, the vampire child, apparently the lone survivor of her group.
There are details scattered here and there in the story with no apparent purpose until they begin to shift and connect with one another. Right at the beginning of the story there’s an elaborate description of a room wallpapered with an owl design. I often wondered why the author gave it so much attention but later on in the story it becomes obvious it’s not just because it was pretty. The mystery behind the name of the book is revealed later on, and only after that I realized the blurb at the back refers to the name of the book and not to…something else.
The story is peppered with information about vampires – the un-dead or undid – and while it sticks to some well known facts like their dislike for silver and holy water, it also introduces more unconventional details like being able to walk during the day, drinking alcohol mixed with blood, and being able to feel the cold, despite standing next to a blazing fire.
It was also a very pleasant surprise to see the names of famous writers, poets and characters – Oscar Wilde, Wilkie Collins, Shakespeare, John Donne, Sherlock Holmes.
The ending was quite easy to spot, not at first, but in the last few pages of the book. After all, according to an interview on YouTube, the author is currently working on a sequel and frankly I would like to see what happens to James in the coming book, and how many characters from the first book make a comeback. Also, it would be nice to find out more about his father and the cause of his death. That particular detail is something that’s been nagging at me since the beginning of the story.
This has been an interesting book. I finished it in two days, during which I mostly read and didn’t do much else, holed up in the house in a state of near hibernation. It’s been great to be able to do that and this book was good company and a great choice for this year’s R.I.P, a challenge hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings until the end of October.
My rating: 3.5/ 5 stars
Read in October 2014