Body Electric

The Companion

Danegeld

 
The Hunger by Susan Squires
(St. Martinís, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-312-99854-6
****
I donít read historical romance novels as a rule, but for Susan Squires Iíll make an exception. I admire her originality and her willingness to take chances in numerous different genres Ė medieval, science fiction and, most recently, vampire. The Hunger is an intense, thought-provoking novel for those who donít mind a walk on the dark side. The one aspect that is less than satisfying is its romance. †

The Hunger is a prequel to Squiresí May 2005 release, The Companion. Beatrix Lisse has been alive for more than 600 years, one of the last vampires to be born instead of infected from the blood of another vampire. She has moved around Europe throughout the centuries, and by 1811 she is living in London as a mysterious countess and patron of the arts who opens her house several times a week to the cityís fascinated male population. Beatrix is filled with ennui, however, bored with the men who dote on her and convinced that she can never recover from lost love and past sins. Into her life comes John Staunton, Earl of Langley, allegedly the most debauched man in England. †

John isnít a pushover like the young besotted men Beatrix feeds on, and that intrigues her. She doesnít know that the notorious rake is also an accomplished spy who is about to embark on a dangerous mission to help his country defeat Napoleon Bonaparte. But it turns out that France is being supported by a much darker force, one that Beatrix is all too familiar with, and she will have to summon up six centuries of strength, courage and cunning to save John from a horrible fate. †

Squires has borrowed diverse pieces of vampire lore to create her own cohesive vampire mythology. The vampire essence, called the Companion, is an organism that lives in and is transferred through the blood. The Companion provides eternal life and incredible strength, as well as the ability to translocate short distances, but requires frequent doses of human blood, which can be obtained without significant harm to the donor. On her website, Squires draws an analogy between the Companion and the AIDS virus; in both cases there is irrational fear and blaming of the infected individual. †

In the vampire romance genre, itís unusual to find female blood-suckers, unless they are transformed by the hero at the novelís climax. Beatrix is a fascinating creature who has endured loneliness and rejection for centuries yet has found a modicum of purpose in her life. Hers is definitely a story of redemption, as she reminisces about the pivotal moments that shaped her and the teacher/lover and sister/rival who continue to impact her. She finds a good match in John Staunton, who is also seeking absolution for his checkered past. Itís easy to admire his honor, but that old familiar ďI was betrayed by a woman, therefore all women are evilĒ mantra is tiresome. †

The novel explores themes of good and evil, including the age-old question of whether these attributes are inherent or learned. While we see the good in Beatrix and Johnís relationship, we see a lot more evil in both humans and vampires. The Hunger is extremely dark, perhaps even more so than The Companion, which was pretty bleak. There is graphic violence, sadistic torture and explicit sexual perversions. Heads roll and body parts are pierced. This is definitely not a novel for the faint-hearted. †

Those who relish a good love story may be disappointed as well. While Beatrix and John make a quick, early connection Ė thereís nothing like a couple who can flirt while quoting Blake Ė their brief time together is disrupted by long, agonizing separations. Squires devotes more pages to Beatrixís flashback scenes and Johnís adventures in the hull of a prison ship than to episodes of the two interacting. There are a few sizzling love scenes, but I couldnít help feeling that the author is more interested in her characterís individual growth than their growth as a couple. †

Still, for an author to make me abandon my usual Womenís Fiction or Chick Lit for a historical vampire romance, I need the promise of something special and unpredictable. Susan Squires rarely disappoints; Iíll follow her into whatever genre she wants to explore. †

--Susan Scribner


@ Please tell us what you think! back Back Home