My friend Gabriel Blanchard, who blogs over at Mudblood Catholic, has recently released his debut Death's Dream Kingdom (the first in the Redglass Trilogy) with my publisher Clickworks Press and I am really excited to offer some thoughts on it.
The novel is unapologetic Victorian Vampire fiction. Blanchard takes us into Victorian England with all the style and eloquence one should expect. What first stuck me about the book was the fact that there is absolutely no hint of tongue-in-cheek. Those of you who share geekdom with me, will remember that Hollywood failed to produce successful, or at least blockbuster superhero movies until they stopped being embarrassed about the fact that they were making superhero movies. An audience of almost any genre will most enjoy a work when it is un-self-consciously itself. So too with the recent glut of vampire fiction, there is often a sense that the writer is, on some level, a little embarrassed to be writing about vampires. That insecurity, whether conscious or subconscious, always interrupts a readers ability to fully enter into the world of a novel. You can never quite get lost in a story when the author is forever apologizing for the sort of story it is.
DDK is blessedly free of this flaw. Blanchard clearly loves the genre and the period and brings the reader in with all the gusto he can manage (which turns out to be quite a bit). The characters speak, think, act, and react just the way they ought. The wit and humor are as Victorian as the setting. In short, Death's Dream Kingdom is a winsomely vulnerable, and tremendously crafted work of art.
The second aspect of the novel which I find particularly exciting is the rigor with which Blanchard has crafted the supernatural schema of the novel. Long time readers of science fiction will be familiar with the distinction between "hard" and "soft" sci-fi. For those who aren't,"soft science fiction" uses the future technology and environment of a future world as the vehicle for a story, the technology in question is generally unexplained and there is little to no attempt made at defending the plausibility of the world. "Hard science fiction" on the other hand, takes the technology seriously; it defends the plausibility of the future tech it utilizes, generally drawing on principles or theories of modern scientists. Death's Dream Kingdom is, among other things, hard supernatural fiction. The rules and mechanisms which govern the vampires of the novel are drawn from existing theologies and spiritual traditions so rigorously that it may be hard for readers to return to sloppier vampire fiction after immersing themselves in Blanchard's world. Reading Death's Dream Kingdom will give the reader the constant impression that Blanchard has got it exactly right about supernatural vampires to the degree that this series ought to claim a place next to Max Brooks' World War Z or Zombie Survival Guide as a field guide to encounters with the undead. If I were to ever discover that supernatural vampires exist I would expect them to follow the rules Blanchard lays out.
Finally it is important for me to say that DDK is above all, a delightful story. Blanchard has not cut any corners on his plot or his characters. There are developments and twists to please any reader, and the characters are, by turns winsome, infuriating, urbane, and horrifying. There are heroes to love and to be angry with, and Blanchard's villains can be grotesque (the vampires Dane and Tinsmith stand out here), charming (I still both love and hate Augustus), or both (but no spoilers).
So who should read the book?
Anyone who likes vampire fiction and/or period fiction. Death's Dream Kingdom is a slam dunk for all who love fully immersive supernatural fiction and are all in for non-stop Victorian language. If, on the other hand, you lean towards plain-spoken or contemporary style novels, this is probably not the book for you.