The Double Edged Sword

Lorraine Jean Bush’s novel The Double Edged Sword is the first book in a trilogy. This was published in October, 2012, and the second, A Leap Of Faith, was planned for November, 2012, but hasn’t hit the shelves yet.

It’s a delight to read – the first part, at least. The early part of the book deals with a dark and troubled childhood, and it feels very real. In fact, L.J. Bush’s description of herself on Amazon says, ‘The Childhood years chapter of my book is actually based on my own childhood.’

Research and Hybrids

And then she’s turned… She wakes after five days of pain and fever to discover her reality has changed. There’s no one there to explain anything, so she has to work it out for herself.

In many stories about the paranormal, there’s a moment when the heroes head for the books and the Internet, and discover the truth about vampires, werewolves, whatever. This always annoys and amuses me, because any serious attempt at research into vampires, werewolves, whatever, will only reveal that everything we know is based on fictional elaborations of mundane reality. Which is not to say there are no vampires, werewolves, whatever, but rather that finding a book or website that gets it right is profoundly improbable.

I am also curious now about when the idea of human-vampire hybrids first arose. L.J. talks about hybrids in the film Lost Boys (released 1987) but aren’t these just humans in transition that haven’t fed yet? (I haven’t seen it in ages. Great film, though, and I love the soundtrack, especially Echo and the Bunnymen’s cover of People Are Strange.) Another film released that year was Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, which was dark and brutal in comparison to the comedy-horror of Lost Boys, but this film too plays on the idea that a newly turned vampire can be saved.

Sonja Blue in Sunglasses After Dark (published 1989) twists this idea a little. There is no return to humanity, but she becomes something between human and vampire. (I really need to read that again.) For me, Sonja was the first true hybrid. Blade (the film was released in 1998, although Blade does appear in comic books from 1973 onwards) gives us possibly the most famous hybrid, a daywalking vampire with a soul, his mother having been bitten by a vampire just before Blade was born.

So I’m not sure there would be anything to find out about hybrids in 1986, except perhaps for the dhampir of South-Slavic folklore. The dhampir is a child of a human mother and vampire father. (There are several reported instances in the historical record of women claiming that their pregnancy is a result of a visit from their husband, despite his being dead.) But descriptions of these dhampirs are wildly speculative.

Morality

The transition from childhood history to vampire tale does mark the point where the reality of the story recedes and the writing becomes less compelling. I do like the inversion of the usual morality theme:

I had lived through all those years of torment, just waiting to wreak vengeance on the human race. Yet even now, with all my new found powers and gifts, I was to be denied the one thing I had existed for.

However, I think it’s wrong to blame it on the way ‘all emotions were intensified in vampires’, and then obsess over an emotional ‘off switch’.

Narrative and Specificity

A general vagueness and stereotyping often permeates the story. For example, she bites into a man’s neck, feeds, then sends him on his way. Did he stagger away dizzy, blood running down his neck from that sudden, inexplicable wound? Also, superspeed and hypnotic skills don’t necessarily make it easy to rob banks. It’s a little lazy to add it in as little more than a passing remark. Later on, she has difficulty jumping out of a (first-floor?) window, and relies on public transport for speed (or maybe it’s about distance rather than speed), so I’m quite confused about her abilities. Her sister Jo’s mind-reading ability is selective, and in a way that it feels like a device to drive the plot.

And house hunting:

The second was OK, but the third was perfect. Even better, it backed onto the local river. … The greedy landlord…

Okay, later we learn that the third is near Burnham Beeches, but still… This may be considered unfair criticism, but I do think details of setting and character are exactly the sort of issue that good authors learn to address (or work around more elegantly) – and I know it’s not easy.

Perhaps this will always be a problem with linear narration of events spanning a large time interval. The story feels slow at times.

Just as important is making sure that details that you do include are correct or at least believable. I’m no doctor, but I believe piercing the carotid artery with a sharpened fingernail would not leave ‘only a small puncture wound and hardly any mess’. The jugular vein, on the other hand…

Technicalities

Occasional formatting, grammatical and other errors, particularly in the use of semi-colons, and ill-placed paragraph breaks. Some strange word choices, for example: ‘I will need to consort with your creator,’ which does seem to suggest that any conversation will be incidental to other, more intimate entertainment.

First-person narration is a slightly tricky thing (see First Person, Present Tense and POV). There should always be a sense of now. Perhaps the narration is of events as they occur, or perhaps the narration is of past events, but even in the latter case there should be a sense of now. It distracts me to read things like this:

The law system in this stupid country was flawed to the extreme. So much of it was crippled by corruption. I was actually looking forward to being a vigilante.

The third sentence is fine, a past anticipation. The first two sentences? These statements are largely true, but phrased in this way do seem to imply that the English law system has improved significantly between 1987 and now, whenever now is – 2012?

In Conclusion…

There’s a lot to like about this novel, especially the beginning, and the personal aspect adds something unusual. I certainly enjoy the female-vampire-in-London theme. However, I’m stuck about halfway through (it’s quite a long book) and finding it rather frustrating in places, so I’m not sure when (or if) I’ll finish it.

★★☆☆☆

Links

Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, goodreads, LJ Bush’s blog on WordPress.com

Coda

It’s interesting (for me) to see parallels with my own book Suzie and the Monsters:

  • The protagonist and narrator is a female vampire in London.
  • It is possible to feed without killing, but there is no magical healing of bite marks, so the police are a concern.
  • There’s a pub with a gruesome name: The Hangman’s Arms here, The Scold’s Bridle in mine.
  • Mention of Jack the Ripper, although here the focus is on Jack; in mine it is on his victims.

About Frank

A Sci-Fi & Fantasy author and lyrical poet with a mild obsession for vampires, succubi, goddesses and Supergirl.
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