Second in a series, A Dance in Blood Velvet by Freda Warrington is a follow up to A Taste of Blood Wine. Collectively they’re known as The BloodWine series, with two more I’ve yet to read. Let us begin with the simple acknowledgment I look forward to doing so.
Begin with the era. Those strange, heady days after the end of the first world war (the so-called Great War) but prior to the Great Depression. When the Edwardian Age hung on for dear life in the face of a world we increasingly recognize as modern. The role of women challenged. Audiences demanding comfort while artists reel from the experience of world-wide trauma. Science making new strides while secret societies indulge in a quest for hidden, forbidden knowledge. Above all else this remains a time of myopia, of fervor over personal opinions held in a death grip, of gnawing doubt about Life and Meaning with extreme answers to both holding a deadly attraction.
Okay, this is a book review so it shouldn’t have to be said but all the same–SPOILERS FOLLOW. Really, if you don’t want to know anything at all about the plot of this book jump to the last paragraph.
The threads of the story pick up from A Taste of Blood Wine. Fiercely independent vampire Karl, that strange blend of conscience and ruthlessness, has turned his lover Charlotte into an immortal predator like himself. She, whose fragile docility proved nothing more than a mask worn by a heart at least as ferocious as his own, walks in sin-stained bliss but not without guilt. Much to the story centers around the very first time she becomes totally enraptured by a human. Karl and the other immortals–his daughter Illona, the strange ‘twins’ Stephan and Nilas, Pierre the nihilist–recognize this for what it is, the total fascination a living human can sometimes exert on a vampire, a desire deeper than blood. It can rarely end well. Charlotte goes to see Swan Lake with Karl. Both adore the talent and passion of Violette Lenoir, the prima ballerina. For Charlotte, such adoration becomes more. It leads her to watch every performance. To watch the dancer’s life, to force a meeting, to become part of the woman’s existence. Yet she comes across a fascinating, tormented soul in Violette–a woman twisted by guilt and tragedy, but unresolved passions poured into her art. In this brilliant dancer lies pain and hunger, blended with loneliness and disgust. To Charlotte, she becomes a riddle to solve, an object of worship, almost but not quite a friend or lover.
All this becomes entwined with the more violent events of the previous novel–the destruction of Kristian, fanatic sociopath who had been Lord of the Vampires. By sheer chance (or fate?) Karl and Charlotte had discovered the lair of an ancient, vastly cruel vampire who’d created a Book in the very place he’d tortured his victims. Both Book and lair become a trap for vampires, the shredded remnants of the dead boundlessly hungry for what had been raped from them. Thus Kristian had been led into a trap, weakened, and in the weird Crystal Ring–a dream like reality of frozen winds where vampires can travel and sleep–Karl had managed to tear his creator apart. But not before Kristian had sent a psychic demand from those vampires he’d trapped in the Crystal Ring to avenge him.
Now those vampires–barely conscious, weakened yet immortal still–wander like wraiths in the Crystal Ring. Two who had been friends of Karl make it out.
Katerina, an elegant creature of great beauty who regards Karl as her own, is rescued and Karl insists on nursing her back to strength, thus driving an emotional wedge between himself and Charlotte.
At nearly the same time, members of an occult order that had somehow gotten ahold of the ancient’s Book tried to use it to summon an angel from the astral plane. Benedict Grey and his wife Holly feel nothing but horror when Andreas–Katrina’s other lover and Karl’s good friend–appears in the circle. A wild-eyed mummified shape with fangs! Benedict in time feels more than horror. Ever in the shadow of his brother, the order’s leader, he sees such a successful summoning as proof of real power. How can he resist trying it once more?
End of SPOILERS.
Warrington does an especially good job of blending the idea of vampires as genuinely, inherently evil and yet at heart as human as ever they had been. As if to drive the point home, those vampires who seem to have lost their humanity stand in stark contrast to those struggling with what their essential nature. Intriguingly, in this series the bite of a vampire weakens a victim greatly, often causing some kind of madness and sometimes (like AIDS) leaving them susceptible to the slightest wound or infection. Within this universe she maintains as well a balance of enlightenment and mystery. Unlike (for example) Anne Rice, she offers more questions with each and every answer. People come to conclusions, but there’s no definite way to conclude any are right. Plus her writing is eminently readable. The characters remain vividly themselves, even if in many ways they take back seat to the ideas explored and the plot revealed–yet end up integral to both!