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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Just Read...Pale Guardian by Barbara Hambly. Severn House 2016

This is not a formal review, just my thoughts. 

The Great War is raging in Europe. The battlegrounds of France are looking like the land of Mordor(not surprising - that's where Tolkien got the idea). Young men from England, France and Germany are dying all over the place. For the vampires of Europe, it's like all their Christmases have come at once. Yum! All that food and nobody will even ask questions when you turn up in an ambulance.

But there are worse things than vampires, as Lydia Asher, the doctor wife of James Asher, university academic and former spy for the Queen, discovers. At least vampires just kill you. In this universe, you have to want to be turned. If not, you're just dead. Fini! 

Lydia has volunteered her services as a nurse. Her husband is home, recovering from his latest bout of pneumonia and looking after their small daughter. There are strange, scary things wandering the night, tearing dying soldiers to bits - even the vampires are spooked by them. Things Lydia last saw in China a couple of books ago. And James has seen one in London, but it's worse than not being believed by administration. Admin knows about them all too well...

I've been reading this series from the beginning. This is the seventh. I'm not usually a fan of series books, but Barbara Hambly seems able to keep up the quality. Whenever I spot one of these or, even better, Benjamin January historical crime fiction, on the library shelves, I pounce with cries of glee. I have yet to be disappointed by any of them. 

She doesn't just write vampire books. She thinks about the consequences. There are the basic ones, such as... However sexy a male vamp might be - and the Ashers' vampire friend Don Simon Ysidro, a sixteenth century Spanish nobleman, is incredible sexy! - he can't actually take you into his manly arms and make mad passionate physical love to you. He just can't! No blood circulation, you see. This would no doubt disappoint the average teenage girl, who is used to YA vampire fiction, but it makes sense. And I cried,"At last! Someone said it!" 

Simon himself admits you have to be very, very selfish to want to become a vamp, but as the Ashers' friend, he is loyal and brave and looks after Lydia, always. The Ashers both feel guilty about hanging out with a mass murderer, but he just keeps coming through for them. Well, mostly for Lydia. But still. In the second novel in the series, Travelling With The Dead, Simon accompanies her to Turkey in search of her missing husband, but he is a Renaissance era gentleman. A lady does not travel alone and she doesn't travel with just a male companion other than her husband. He uses his vampire powers to persuade a woman to come as a companion. When Lydia refuses to travel with him unless he promises not to feed along the way, he agrees - and keeps his word. It's not good for him, but he does it because he's a gentleman - and cares about Lydia. 

I adore all the regular characters in this series, but minor characters are also well drawn. Simon, posing as a British Colonel, shamelessly uses his vamp powers to persuade a young officer that they are on a top secret government mission, and act as his driver and daytime organiser. Young Palfrey is such a nice lad, but Simon points out to Lydia that he's going to do a lot less damage as his aide than he would if put in charge of some poor soldiers. 

There are some truly scary villains in this, at least two of whom think they're doing their evil for the Homeland. 

At the same time, most of the vampires are decent enough, if you can get over the fact of how they stay alive. They do ordinary things like gossip about each other and play cards in between raids. At least, Lydia can work with them and James can get information, since they know one. 

And the author shows sympathy even for the poor shambling creatures that were once humans, though you really wouldn't want to get within reach of one, especially if you survive!  

You really need to have read at least the first couple of books to get an idea of who the characters are and what their motivations are, but it's a great series, so why not read the lot? 


Shirley Corder said...

Hi Sue. This is definitely NOT my choice of book! Dare I admit it? I'm a wimp when it comes to scary characters, and I do NOT do vampires! Everyone to his own taste, hi? I enjoy suspense novels, but I must KNOW they're going to have a happy ending. I know, I said it already. Wimp!

Tamara Narayan said...

Sounds like fun. So who is going to invent vampire Viagra? Now there's a story waiting to be written!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Shirley, be glad you're not a school librarian, then! You'd be wading in vampires, demons, werewolves, fallen angels(who then fall in love with young mortal ladies), half-vampires(not everyone has figured it's unlikely!), vampire and demon princesses...

Tamara, I suspect they get their kicks out of power instead. But you can write the story if you like. ;-)