Review of Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly

Part of the Worlds Without End Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge

YYEEESSSS! YES! This is what I want to read when I want to read a vampire novel.

And get me: I’m addicted to The Vampire Diaries on the CW, I read Anne Rice when I was in high school, and I still consider Stoker’s Dracula to be one of the finest novels ever written (and I can’t stand epistolary novels!). Near Dark kicks Zero Dark Thirty ass in Kathryn Bigelow’s directorial canon, in my opinion, and if you haven’t read Anne Billson’s novel Suckers, you need to immediately. Hopefully this all suffices to establish my street cred as vampire novel evaluator. Notice I’m not mentioning Stephenie whatshernameTwilight here. At least, I’m trying not to.

First, Barbara Hambly is a thinking woman’s writer. Because yes, there are nonthinking women out there. I should know, I am a nonthinking woman sometimes. I read the first Sookie Stackhouse novel (cringe) and ditched the books for HBO’s True Blood adaptation so I could salivate over Alexander Skarsgaard. And there’s of course Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, who is apparently supersexycool (ok, I’m not really sure if she’s that because I haven’t read any Laurell K. Hamilton, but I’m sure I’d prefer Anita Blake over Bella and Edward). There’s now enough vampteen and hip-chick vampire hunter lit out there to make a bookstack that would stretch from here to the Wraith mothership in the Pegasus Galaxy (yes I’m referencing Stargate Atlantis here, and I’m not ashamed). Speaking of the Wraith, what you get with Hambly’s novels is scary vampires. The ones who want you dead because you’re an inferior humanoid food source. The kind of vampires Stoker had in mind.

Anyway, Barbara Hambly’s James Asher novels. Because Those Who Hunt The Night is the first in a series, people. Get on board. And, if you’re not reading my WOGF reviews (it’s ok I know no one is…. I’m sucking at the polls, no vampire bloodsucking pun intended here), you’d also know that without trying (I swear, without trying), I keep choosing novels with serious bromance going on. This one is no different! Well, it definitely starts off differently, however, both in terms of bromance and vampire-human relationships (as recently depicted in film and teen lit, I mean).

Let’s get to the plot, shall we. Or sort of, because I’m really bad at synopses and reviews (see previous three babble-rant paragraphs). Suffice to say, our undead story takes place when and where it damn well should, in early 20th century Britain. Our hero James Asher is an Oxford professor who has a background in the spy trade and a brilliant, headstrong young wife named Lydia who is training to be one of the few female doctors of the time period. You know James is badass because he rides an Indian motorcycle, and Lydia rocks because she isn’t a wilting flower but a sharpwitted scientist who isn’t afraid to perform autopsies.

At the very beginning of the novel, Asher arrives home to find waiting for him the vampire Don Simon Xavier Christian Morado de la Cadena-Ysidro. No, really. Ysidro’s presence confirms the existence of vampires for our hero, and then he pretty much coerces Asher into helping him find out who is murdering vampires in London. You’d be coerced too by a 300 year old superhuman blooddrinker who knows where you live and threatens your wife. The two reach an uneasy bargain, and sleuthing ensues. This isn’t just a vampire novel, it’s a delightfully tense murder mystery and character study with a dash of mad scientism thrown in. James Asher is courageous and resourceful, and so is his wife, and their love story is as important to the book as the bromance between the noble Asher, tormented by his actions during his spy years, and the lonely, ancient Ysidro, who is nobility of a different sort. It’s inevitable that the two men – though really only one of them is a human man – are going to be allies, and you hope despite Ysidro’s age and his coldbloodedness that they will be friends. By the time Asher calls Ysidro by his first name during their scaaaary foray into the Paris catacombs, it’s clear they’re gonna bond and save each others’ lives at some point. Yay! And yet, there’s still that undercurrent of distrust and wariness, punctuated by moments of sly humor. It’s just electric!

Those Who Hunt the Night was published more than ten years after Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, but it’s not a ripoff or some kind of vampire reboot – it’s unique and rewarding. There are three more books in Hambly’s series, which is a wicked little treat! I’m keen to see more of Lydia Asher, whose canny medical know-how helped reveal the mystery at the heart of this story. There are other minor characters in the form of Ysidro’s vampire buddies (and not-so-buddies), and Hambly portrays them as separate personalities, not simply stock villains to be despatched or befriended. One of the best moments of tingly fear comes from a scene in which James meets an abandoned, newly-created vampire thug who has never learned self-control. They have an intense conversation in a dark alley, and Hambly does a masterful job of conveying the vampire’s rage, desperation, and hunger, in sharp contrast to Asher’s brave self-control and quick wits. I was simultaneously terrified, repulsed, saddened, and intrigued.

Hambly has written some great books in other genres as well – you might know her fantasy novel Dragonsbane, and her Benjamin January mystery series. Highly recommended. Me, I’m on to Traveling With The Dead, book 2 in the James Asher series. YES!!!

 

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