The Kindred of Darkness by Barbara Hambly. (Historical Horror Novel, 2017).
A while ago I reviewed one of Hambly’s Benjamin January crime/adventure series set in the pre-Civil War deep south. now I want to take a look at the latest in her other series–the fifth James Asher vampire novel.
It’s 1913 and the latest in a series of small and nasty wars in the Balkans presages a far greater conflict to come next year (World War One). James Asher, British folklore expert and mostly retired spy for the British Crown, is away from home–very possibly pressed back into spy service by government officials he despises almost as much as he hates the secret cell of London-based vampires he’s been forced to tolerate (check earlier books in the series for details). As a result, the nominal central figure in the series is at first unavailable when vaguely related supernatural trouble rears its head back home.
Hence Asher’s bright and resourceful wife Lydia is center-stage this time. She already had enough to deal with in her snooty and annoying family. They’ve roped her into supervising a young niece’s ‘First Social Season.’ Self-important and extremely class-conscious, but lately somewhat cash-poor, the family is looking for the young girl to snag a ‘suitable’ (i.e. both rich and ‘well-born’) husband and do it damn quick.
Lydia finds herself having to play the stupid social games she loathes, but these are relegated to mere annoyances when she comes home one night to find the Asher home has been invaded. Their toddler and her nanny have been abducted by Dr. Grippen, the centuries-old Master Vampire of London.
This violation of the shaky truce between the Ashers and the vampires stems from Grippen wanting to blackmail Lydia into helping him locate a dangerous newcomer. Zahorec is another vampire and an apparent refugee from the war James may have been secretly investigating. He has come uninivited to Grippen’s turf, in search of an ancient and legendary book that may enable him to break free of the older vampire who created him, and wrest control of the London bunch from Grippen in the process.
Having learned some investigative spy craft from her husband, Lydia goes to work–while also putting out cries for help–from James and from a mysterious Spanish vampire who she loves almost as much as she loves James. Meanwhile, she also has to keep what social obligations to her family and London Society she can’t avoid.
In the process she comes into contact with a filthy rich American tycoon, the daughter he’s in Europe to marry off, a not-very-secretly-gay and drug-addicted future Lord who seems to suit their purposes, the young noble’s very worried and disbelieving true love, and lots of others.
Smart and intriguing, sometimes quite chilling adventures ensue as Lydia seeks to find Zahorec’s hiding places (and also where Grippen has secreted his captives away). She’s soon reinforced by Don Ysidro (the courtly Spanish vampire) and the returning James. Their difficult and deeply conflicted love triangle provides an extra layer of emotional interest to the proceedings. That Ysidro and Grippen are longtime enemies only increases the level of suspense as reluctant allies learn more of the truth, and still more scheming, ruthless figures emerge.
Without revealing too many details, the would-be social climbing Americans and their so-proper (and hypocritical) English counterparts all are to some degree involved in the complex plot. Zahorec is very much a threat, as yet another vampire proves to be late in the narrative.
A bloodcurdling, epic final battle in the ruins of an isolated castle finally resolves the story with a necessarily incomplete victory won by the Ashers. This makes good sense in the context of the story, while allowing room for future installments in this entertaining, suspenseful combo of historical color and slightly revisionist vampire mythology (with a bit of forbidden/conflicted love thrown in for good measure).
A good book, overall.