Monday, February 15, 2016

And Burn They Do! ~ A Review of Declan Finn's "Honor At Stake"

I'm a pretty simple guy. I can enjoy just about any story as long as it is well done and is grounded in a good moral base. That's probably why despite being a big fan of fantasy, I barely read any vampire novels.

Now why is that? Well, it's pretty simple.

I consider Bram Stoker's Dracula one of the best horror stories ever written and thought Stephen King's modern take in Salem's Lot one of the best usage of vampires and the myth I'd ever read (outside of some sticking points like what happened to the priest in a scene involving a crucifix), and the comic book Crimson provided a very fresh take on their origins, with sticking points of its own, but otherwise I really hate the blood suckers and just about every story with them present.

The reason I detest them is simple. They get the rules wrong. Constantly. The stories take away their weaknesses which is the one thing that makes them the most interesting creature and puts them above other monsters. They turn them into little more than walking tanks with an overbite and a skin condition. Then you get to ridiculous stuff like Anne Rice removing all the rules for no reason and the Twilight series not even making the monsters vampires but calling them that regardless, and you have successfully neutered their appeal in every possible way.

Even Joss Whedon lost points by allowing vampires into churches (despite holy water and crosses burning and killing them, I might add) and letting them move over running water thereby allowing them full range of movement. Without the rules, they're too boring to read about and it makes them almost as dull as zombies.

I have read a few of Declan Finn's books before, enjoyed them a good deal, but he managed to hit something with Honor At Stake that I haven't seen in a vampire story in years. Using the religious roots of the monsters, he highlights Bram Stoker's rules in Dracula (which were echoed to an extent in Salem's Lot), and makes the mythos what it was meant to be from the start. He adds his own touches such as in how the vampire's soul is affected by the transformation, which was honestly never clear in Stoker's work, and how they are able to turn into vampires in the first place.

More than the rules, he hits vampires with his own style of action and suspense, bringing about a sense of fun with the creature that hadn't been hit at a similar level since probably something as old as The Lost Boys. (Keep in mind, I mean enjoyability. Not accuracy. It's not a great film.)

But that would be selling this book short if getting the rules right was enough.

In Honor At Stake there is a growing romance, ninjas, gang fights, explosions, and a pace that never lets up once it starts rolling. The characters are fun to follow, leading with a duo in which one is a psycho and the other a vampire and you might get an idea of how the dynamics between the pair work. The setting, New York City, really comes alive here in the setting where vampires might not be the worst thing you could possibly run into on a bad day. The book's got a cracking sense of humor to go with the drama and action, as you can see.

The plot involves the two main characters, Marco Catalano and Amanda Colt, slowly getting closer to each other while realizing they don't actually know as much about each other as they thought. At the same time, violent attacks seem to be popping up all over the place involving bite marks and drained blood, signs that something bad is on the way to New York. But I really don't want to explain more than that to avoid getting into spoiler territory. The book unfolds at such a good pace that you'll be hooked in really quick.

It's a shame that vampires no longer inspire works like this, usually being little more than allowing erotic fantasies to come to play for the author in place of characters or plot. Declan Finn shows that not only does he get the appeal of the vampire monster, but doesn't miss the point of why they're a threat in the first place. Just a good job all the way around.

About the only fault is a bit of a slow start, but once you get past it, it never lets up until the end. I had a lot of fun with this book.

One of the best vampire stories in recent times. Don't miss it!

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