The Dark Arts of Blood (review)

Freda Warrington’s vampire novels make for lush, intense dramas involving angst-haunted, fierce undead–lovers, enemies, family members, friends, despots, sometimes religious fanatics or raving lunatics. Her latest The Dark Arts of Blood certainly is no exception. More, her tales explore that strange dangerous moments and relationships inherent when the world of humanity blends with that of the undead.

balletOne facet of this novel lies in the interesting notion of a celebrity who becomes a vampire.  The celebrity in question is prima ballerina Violette Lenoir.  More than just a vampire however, Violette in many ways is an avatar of Lilith herself. Little wonder her new partner in the ballet, Emil, cannot help but fall in love with her–and thus accidentally witness an incident between Violette and some ancient spectral figure that forms one of the mysteries at the strange center of the story.

tumblr_m053vskYpI1qg4blro1_500In 1920s Switzerland, the perennial heroes of the novels–vampire lovers Charlotte and Karl–visit their friend Violette and wander into a web of intrigue between the wars. The Jazz Age filters into Europe, threatening those who seek a return to conservative values in the wake of the Great War. One of these is filmmaker Godric Reiniger, would-be political mastermind and leader of an occult group–a group with weapons that can actually wound vampires (as one of the characters learns the most unpleasant of ways).  When an unknown undead from the middle east seeks to retrieve them, she also ends up meeting and seemingly falling in love with the desperately tumblr_mxtoioGxPe1qa6dfqo1_500love-sick dancer Emil.

Adding to the brew are the weird undead twins Stefan and his doppelganger Niklas (the one who never speaks, never having been born). Many themes end up explored, not least how does one actually live, actually spend one’s eternal time as a vampire? What kinds of communities and enclaves might such beings form? Some exploration of vampiric origins and nature take place, as well as a glimpse of the kind of human evil echoing the horrors of the soon-to-come Third Reich (after all, what makes vampires dangerous is that they remain human beings).

tumblr_mt4vov0eW01rm71l9o2_400Plots like this actually contain a fair number of potential land mines. Warrington deserves credit for avoiding them with aplomb, even style. Pretentiousness, especially given the blend of the undead with ballet and quasi-religious politics.  She however never stops focusing on the specific, the uniquely individual rather than the vaguely general or symbolic.  Charlotte and Karl as well as others feel the loneliness of being vampires, of forever being apart from it, but more than their own reactions to this vary–the reasons for them vary. More, those collections of reasons come ‘alive’ the way characters well-written do.

tumblr_inline_mnj9m6XxAD1qz4rgpLikewise even disagreements or specific relationships within the novel show far more complexity than one might expect. But then, this has come to be what one expects from Warrington’s vampire novels. What is more cliche than a younger vampire desperately fighting his older maker to retain some trace of  humanity? Or the perils of love between the living and the living dead? Yet all the books of this series–A Taste of Blood Wine for example or A Dance in Blood Velvet–use such tropes without finding them straightjackets of formula.

I remain very impressed by this author and the vampire saga she has crafted.

By david

David MacDowell Blue blogs at Night Tinted Glasses.  He graduated from the National Shakespeare Conservatory and is the author of The Annotated Carmilla. and Your Vampire Story (And How to Write It) as well as a theatrical adaptation of Carmilla.

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