Alexander Mee was less than satisfied by Proxima’s latest offering, Blood Fugue. A sexed up vamp horror with all the subtlety of gravel.
Eros and Thanatos, or Desire and Death. These are the drives that Freud believed acted within and amongst humans to motivate our heinous and holy intents as well as our internal conflicts. They are also key to understanding Horror as a genre, which plays on both at the same time. Dracula is a great example of this, the Count is a player but I’d want stake him for coming near my loved ones. Frankenstein’s monster is another, it seeks love but is doomed to destroy. Their journeys may be odysseys of furious savagery, but they are enthralling to read, and their downfalls bittersweet.
Blood Fugue by Joseph D’Lacey is a witless attempt at playing this dichotomy. This is a horror book that doesn’t understand tension or suspense. It’s Dracula written by the members of Spinal Tap. I pity its Vampires, whose plasticity as a genre staple has allowed the author to warp them into pointless beasts, that exist “just because” and feed on all manner of bodily fluids through a variety of pornified methods.
The duality, eros and thanatos, is laid out even less subtly than usual. We are “treated” to eros (not erotic, I can’t emphasise that enough) scenes of such pubescent verve that they might as well be playboy letters from a halloween edition. Quite why the (I think underage?) vampires need to engage in porn tropes like blowjobs, threesomes and girl on girl in order to feed, I’m not sure. The plot never bothers to satisfy this, only motors on to the next scene which attempts to up the ante by introducing new heights of pulp sex.
Against the fluid feasting, super strong nightstalkers is one Van Helsing wannabe named Jimmy Kerrigan. An unconscious shaman, bedwetter, superhero and all-round american pioneer who happens to have a fear of the dark… How will he ever overcome? Oh wait, he’s got super powers that he uses automatically. Phew that’s lucky.
It’s so facile as to be insulting. That’s saying nothing of the logical inconsistencies and plot holes that riddle the text. I had my suspension of disbelief shattered so often that reading it became an endurance event.
I find more and more that I pity Vampires. That I want to protect them. Make a little sanctuary somewhere in eastern Europe, collect donations and rehabilitate them. They are the abuse victims of genre literature, victims of fiction trafficking.
Need your vampires to be sparkly creeps who’ll teach a generation that love and stalking are essentially synonymous? Done.
Want vampires to be feudal rednecks with narcotic blood? Have at it.
Want your vampires to be frenzied cannon fodder and actual prostitutes in a mexican brothel? They’re yours for without the need to spend imagination.
It easy to see why. The vampire, who can seduce or control with words, who feasts on our essence and will, are an embodiment of Eros and Thanatos at their most destructive. Little microcosms of horror as a whole. Their popularity of late is really nothing new. Vampires have populated countless fantasy worlds, acting as shorthand for savage or malevolent super humans.
D’Lacey is not a bad writer, though that would make it easier. Anyone who relishes words like “trifurcated” and “lingual” is on my good list. Further the characterisation of the minor characters is often great. Jimmy’s relationship with his father rings true and his mother is a study in strength and dignity. It’s a shame this is wrapped in lo-fi porn and lazy mythology.
This has been done before, this has been done better. American exceptionalism, the new world spirit vs Old tradition and hegemony are the themes of American Vampire, a graphic novel that is worth a read if you want a fresh take on vampires. Even Buffy is a more considered and worthwhile deployment of our fanged foes. Twilight is still terrible, don’t think for a second that I’m condoning that.
Blood Fugue by Joseph D’Lacey is a poor horror novel, but an acceptable adventure. It’s a deeply unsexy coalition of pornography and action that still somehow trudges slothfully on. It’s a stultifying reimagination of vampires that neuters the Nosferatu and lazily attempts to shortcut its way to relevancy. As a work of fiction, it owes more to Fifty Shades of Grey than to Dracula. I find I deeply resent the time that I spent reading it, if only because it’s a decent enough writer suborned by the the dictum ‘sex sells’.
Alexander Mee is a lieutenant colonel in Annexe’s fight against poor genre fiction. He is also a damn fine writer, audio producer and the left hand of Annexe’s annual festival Interrobang.
Blood Fugue is published by Salt’s sci-fi and fantasy imprint, Proxima.