Category Archives: Contemporary Gothic Novels

Balkan Vampire Novel One of the Best: A Review of Kiss of the Butterfly

Kiss of the Butterfly delves into Balkan vampire folklore to create a satisfying and fast-paced vampire tale.

James Lyon’s 2013 novel Kiss of the Butterfly is one of the best vampire novels written in recent years. Its author did impeccable research into vampire folklore, not relying solely on how vampires are depicted in films or even in the novel Dracula and all the vampire fiction that has followed its 1897 publication, but by digging into the true legends of vampires in the Balkans.

Lyon is also the translator of the novel After Ninety Years: The Story of Serbian Vampire Sava Savanovic, which has previously been discussed on this blog. After Ninety Years was first published in 1880, seventeen years before Dracula was published. In his 2015 translation of that novel, Lyon discusses Serbian vampire folklore in detail, and many of the details he discusses he also uses in Kiss of the Butterfly. (Lyon has also written Serbia and the Balkan Front, 1914: The Outbreak of World War I, so he is obviously very knowledgeable about the Balkans.) I won’t go into all the vampire lore details in the novel, but a few are worth mentioning here along with a little plot summary (with a few spoilers, but not giving away the ending) to explain why this is such a great vampire novel.

First off, an explanation about the title. You may not associate butterflies with vampires, but as Lyon explains, butterflies have traditionally been associated in Balkan folklore with the soul. Consequently, a vampire can transform itself into a butterfly. When vampires are killed, it’s important not to let the vampire’s soul escape from its mouth in the form of a butterfly. Of course, the kiss part of the title refers to one of the best scenes in the whole novel when a female vampire attacks the main character.

The novel’s plot is well-paced. It’s just over halfway into the novel when vampires show up in the main storyline, but the lead up to their appearance is suspenseful. I never felt bored at all. The main story concerns Professor Marko Slatina, a Serbian professor teaching in California, and his graduate student, Steven Roberts. Slatina helps Steven get connections in Serbia so he can go there to study vampires for the dissertation he is writing. It’s not easy to go to Serbia at this time since it’s the early 1990s when Slobodan Milosevic is waging a war of genocide in the former country of Yugoslavia.

Once in Serbia, Steven begins his studies in earnest, meeting some professors and other students whom he shares his research with. He also meets some girls, one of whom doesn’t like his interest in vampires, but the two find themselves attracted to each other regardless. The novel educates the reader about Balkan vampires without being boring and builds up to Steven discovering an old book about vampires at a library that he wants to read. The librarian tells him the book was forbidden during the communist regime but he can now look at it. The next day he goes back to look at the book again, only to find that the librarian has been dismissed from her job and the book cannot be located. Obviously, someone does not want him to read it.

Lyon keeps the story moving by having short historical interludes at the end of each chapter that are set between the 1730s and 1980s. These interludes tell us about vampires still existing in Serbia and their history during this period. Most notably, there are twelve vampires in the novel, one of whom is the famous Vlad Dracula. In the 1730s, eleven of the vampires were imprisoned in an underground chamber by a man who had been in love with one of them, Natalija, before she became a vampire. Because of his love for her, he is unable to bring himself to kill her and end her vampirism, so instead, he imprisons her and her fellow vampires. Unfortunately, in the 1980s, the vampires escaped.

As the plot thickens, Steven finds himself being hunted by these vampires, who are intent on killing him before he finds out more about them. Professor Slatina also travels to Serbia at this point and reveals the truth to Steven—that he sent him to the Balkans to find out information about the vampires. Slatina also reveals that he is a vampirovic, the child of a vampire who had sex with a human female. The children of such unions grow up to be vampire hunters and they are basically immortal. I loved this fact, which is part of Balkan folklore, because when I wrote my novel Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, which is largely a sequel to Dracula, I depicted Quincey Harker, the son of Mina and Jonathan Harker, as having special powers and an extended life because Quincey’s mother drank Dracula’s blood. I didn’t know at the time that vampire children were part of the vampire tradition, but thought on my own such a child would be special, so I guess I was right.

Slatina also turns out to have been the husband of Natalija, the female vampire. At one point, he confronts her and she begs him to show his love for her by killing her rather than locking her up. At this point, he explains that he didn’t kill her because he has been working on trying to figure out how he can save her by redeeming her. Elsewhere in the novel, Lyon explains that some vampires can feel remorse, try to repent, and achieve redemption. This, of course, fascinated me since I have traced in my book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, how Gothic wanderer figures like the vampire go from being damned to redeemed throughout the course of the nineteenth century, the most notable being the title character of Varney the Vampire (1846), who continually tries to end his misery by killing himself and who eventually finds redemption.

One additional interesting use of the vampire theme in the novel comes when the vampires attack Steven and his friends. A male vampire attacks a female, which is perfectly acceptable, since it’s heterosexual, but Natalija attacks a female, which is a lesbian act. Much has been made by critics of homosexuality in vampire novels, although in the nineteenth century novels, authors were always careful never to have vampires attack humans of the same sex. Natalija must have been really thirsty, I suspect, rather than into girls since she is married and later seeks to seduce and have sex with Steven—she literally does want sex with him, not just to drink his blood, or so she says. I suspect Lyon gave no thought to the lesbian possibility of her drinking a female’s blood since the scene is not in any way erotic or really significant ultimately. Oh, and I should mention that the vampires can also become werewolves, another part of Serbian folklore Lyon uses.

I won’t give away all the rest of the plot—needless to say, you can imagine how it ends. I will say I thought the pacing very good; the novel never became insincere or fell into being comical like too many vampire films become. Even when one of the vampires loses its head and remains talking, it did not become comical but rather fit into the vampire lore, as explained in the novel. The scene where a female vampire tries to seduce Steven was especially a page-turner.

I’ve read many vampire novels that were written in the last two hundred years. Of the more modern ones, I would say Kiss of the Butterfly is the best one since Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned. It is far better than cheesy and boring Twilight novels or Elizabeth Kostova’s slow and anticlimactic The Historian. I would even read a sequel if Lyon writes one.

Anyone interested in real vampire lore that predates the success of Dracula should definitely read Kiss of the Butterfly.

(I wish to thank Robert Burke, a regular reader of my blog, who introduced me to this novel and James Lyon’s translation of After Ninety Years.)

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

 

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Filed under Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula

Anne Rice’s New Novel More Science-Fiction Than Gothic

With Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, Anne Rice has made her vampire novel comeback a firm success. While this novel, like most of the novels that preceded it, is not as engrossing and magical as the first three vampire novels, Rice continues to explore her vampire world and discover new sources of meaning and new secrets in it that make it worth continuing to read.

princelestatandtherealmsofatlantisIn the last novel, Prince Lestat, Rice allowed Amel, who seems to be the source of the vampires’ existence and powers, to take up new residence in Lestat. Lestat was then hailed as the prince of the vampires and a court was designed for all the vampires, a court that meant organization and laws and civilization for the vampires. This novel shows how that court is now being maintained, and more importantly, it delves into Amel’s origin story.

The rest of this blog will give away key points of the plot so be forewarned if you have not yet read the novel. I’ll also add here that Rice’s series has become so complex over the course of her fourteen vampire novels that readers who have not read them all (and even readers like myself who have been following her for years but tend to forget things when a few years separate the publication of each book) may be a bit lost and confused. To help readers, there is a summary of all the novels in the back of the book as well as a glossary of all the characters to remind people who is who in the vampire world.

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis begins with a sort of wandering about and wordiness typical of Rice’s more recent vampire books and the reader may ask, “What is the point?” for a while, only the magic of “Atlantis” in the title keeps the reader reading, and while I wish the vampires did not talk so much or at least for such long paragraphs, part of their charm is their eloquence. There is a strong story in this book once you get a hundred or so pages into it, and the middle is the very heart of the novel with the promised tale of Atlantis.

I consider this novel more science fiction than horror because it plays on the recent popularity of ancient alien theories—the idea that aliens created or at least intervened in the development of the earth and the human race. What is most striking about the fact that Rice uses this idea is that it brushes aside any Judeo-Christian concept of God as creator as being the historical truth for mankind.

I won’t go into details of the plot, but ultimately, the vampires discover that there are four creatures on the earth known as Replimoids, and that Amel, now a spirit, was also once one of them. The heart of the novel lies in the tale of Kapetria, the only female Replimoid, who tells Lestat their story and that of Atlantis, which she says was actually called Atalantaya. Her story runs just over eighty pages, nearly 20 percent of the novel. Kapetria reveals how she and the Replimoids were created on the planet Bravenna by the Parents, powerful winged beings who apparently created the earth. However, the earth was damaged (she uses different terms but it sounds like it was hit by a meteor) which killed much of the reptilean life (dinosaurs) and allowed the mammals to become dominant on the planet, which was never intended. The Parents abducted Amel from the earth and genetically manipulated him to make him an enhanced human. He was then sent to earth to try to stem the human overpopulation, but instead he created the city of Atalantaya and a dome over it that meant the Parents, who have hidden some sort of cameras all over the planet, could not see what he was doing. To remedy this situation, the Parents then created Kapetria and three other Replimoids. They spent years educating the Replimoids about humans by showing them videos that largely focused on human suffering. The Replimoids were then sent to earth to destroy Amel and Atalantaya and, ultimately, the human race because of its evils that cause all the suffering. When the Replimoids arrive, however, they find that humans are also very capable of loving and caring for one another and when they enter Atalantaya, they are stunned by the beauty and ingenuity of humans, so ultimately, they decide not to destroy the city but rather disobey the parents. Then in a fluke, the planet Bravenna blows up and parts of it fall to earth and destroy Atalantaya. The Replimoids drown in the disaster that follows, although they are not human so they cannot die; they become frozen in the earth and then eventually reawaken thousands of years later. They do not know what became of Amel, but eventually they realize he is now residing inside Lestat. They wish to free him so he can have his own body again, but the vampires fear that to do so will kill Lestat and likely all of them since Amel has always resided in a vampire since the vampires were given power. The vampires now feel the Replimoids are their enemies, but eventually a compromise is reached and Amel is removed from Lestat without any issues. The result is that the vampires are now not dependent upon anything and Amel has his own body.

Rice’s novels, and indeed all of Gothic literature, have always been very tied to the Judeo-Christian religion/myth of good and evil, God the creator, sin and redemption, but this novel boldly reveals that none of this is the truth, at least in Rice’s vampire world. In her story, Kapetria reveals that the Parents were the ones obsessed with suffering and who made it such an important part of human life. It was repulsive to the Replimoids when they reawoke after centuries to find that an oppressive religion (Rice does not say Christianity, but I have no doubt it is what she means if not all of the Abrahamic religions) full of ideas of sin and sacrifice should have such power over so much of the human race. This novel shows that whole concept of the world and how it operates to be false.

One can’t help speculating how the philosophy or theology of this novel stems from Rice’s own experiences. Surely, her conversion back to Catholicism that was so highly celebrated, and then her rejection of it a few years later, was pivotal to her coming to a new understanding of how she viewed the world so she could write this novel. She seems to have freed herself now from the Christian belief in sin, suffering, and redemption, and so she has freed her characters from it as well.

The novel concludes with Lestat meeting with Amel, now in his new body, and their desire to remain friends despite their physical separation. Some of the final paragraphs of the novel are worth quoting. Here Lestat is speaking, beginning with his thoughts on Amel:

“He walks the earth with the power to destroy it. But then so does the human race. And so do we.

“But what endures is what has always mattered: love—that we love one another as surely as we are alive. And if there is any hope for us to ever really be good—that hope will be realized through love….

“To love any one person or thing truly is the beginning of the wisdom to love all things. This has to be so. It has to be. I believe it and I don’t really believe anything else.”

These final paragraphs show that even in the novel’s rejection of the Christian belief system, the greatest tenet of Christianity—love—remains the most powerful, and when you strip away all the trappings of Christianity and get to its essence, the truth it holds is about love, and that’s the same truth Rice ends on.

For me, this novel makes me feel as if the vampire series is complete, and if this is the last novel Rice writes about them, I will be content with it, but then again, Rice is full of surprises, so she may well have more vampire tricks yet up her sleeve.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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The Wandering Jew in The Children of Arthur Series

My newest novel, Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, is the most Gothic-influenced of my novels. While the series builds on the Arthurian legends, it also draws on many other legends, including those of Charlemagne, the Fairy Melusine, Prester John, Dracula, and the Wandering Jew. Here is the prologue to Lilith’s Love, which introduces the Wandering Jew, who is frequently known to appear at key historical moments, as if he is in some way manipulating them, and such is the case in this scene:

Prologue

Constantinople, May 29, 1453, Just after Midnight

“The city will be both founded and lost by an emperor Constantine whose mother was called Helen.”

— Ancient Byzantine Prophecy

For fifty-three days, the siege had held. He had never thought he would be able to hold off the Turks for as long as he had. Had Pope Nicholas V and the rest of Europe come to his aid, it might have been different; even so, his people had been remarkable in their determination not to surrender to the enemy. But any day now, even any hour, it was bound to end.

Lilith's Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, is largely a sequel to Dracula, focusing on the life of Quincey Harker.

Lilith’s Love: The Children of Arthur, Book Four, is largely a sequel to Dracula, focusing on the life of Quincey Harker.

And he would be the last, he, Constantine XI, the last Emperor of the Romans. For fifteen centuries, there had been an empire, and for more than eleven centuries, the capital had been here in Constantinople, but now all that would come to an end. He had done everything he could, trying to negotiate peace with the Turks, striving to get the Orthodox Church to concede to the Pope’s demands that they become Catholic, imploring the rulers of France, England, Hungary, Venice, whoever would listen, to come to his aid, but it had all been to no avail. The Turks far outnumbered those in the city.

And the city was not even worth taking; Constantine knew that. Its wealth had diminished to almost nothing in the last two centuries, ever since the Latins had used a crusade to the Holy Land as an excuse to sack the city and then rule as its emperors for most of the thirteenth century. Although the Romans had regained the city and the throne in time, the empire had continued to shrink and weaken; continually, Constantine and his imperial predecessors had sought to keep the Turks at bay, the emperors wedding their daughters to the Ottoman sultans and doing anything necessary to ensure the empire’s survival.

And as the last emperor, Constantine knew the blame would lie upon his head, without regard to how little chance he had to stop his enemy or how all of Christendom had abandoned him and his people to their fate. What would they call him? His first namesake was Constantine the Great. Would he be called Constantine the Defeated, Constantine the Failure, Constantine the Unworthy? Perhaps the best he could hope for was to be killed in battle so he would be remembered as Constantine the Martyr.

He stood alone now on the battlements, his soldiers knowing he wished to be alone with his thoughts. He looked out at the vast hordes of Turks encamped around the city. Even now they were battering at the walls, hoping to topple any one of them, not even seeking sleep as the night moved toward dawn.

How had it come to this? To some extent, Constantine could understand the reluctance and ignorance of his fellow rulers to come to his aid. Even the Pope, the supposed leader of the Christian world, he could forgive for his stubbornness when he considered that they were all men, full of weaknesses, but how could God Himself turn His back on them? How could the Holy Virgin to whom the city had been dedicated, desert them?

Constantine XI, the last Byzantine Emperor, who like King Arthur, is prophesied someday to return.

Constantine XI, the last Byzantine Emperor, who like King Arthur, is prophesied someday to return.

And there was no doubt they had been forsaken. The Holy Virgin had shown she would no longer protect them. The city had been dedicated to the Virgin since its ancient days. In desperation, the people had cried out to her ever since the siege had begun, and just three days ago, her most holy relic, the Hodegetria—an icon of her, believed to have been painted by St. Luke the Evangelist himself, which had saved the city on numerous occasions—was brought forth from Saint Sophia and carried in a procession through the streets. It had been mounted on a wooden pallet and lifted onto the shoulders of several strong men from the icon’s confraternity. The people followed as the Hodegetria traveled through the city, while the priests offered up incense, and the men, women, and children walked barefoot to show their penance. Hymns were sung, prayers said, and the people repeatedly cried out to the Virgin, beseeching her protection: “Do thou save thy city, as thou knowest and willest. We put thee forward as our arms, our rampart, our shield, our general: do thou fight for thy people.”

Then, before anyone realized it was happening, the Hodegetria slipped from the hands of its bearers. They struggled to grasp it, but it was too late. The people ran forward to pick it up, but it was as if it were weighted with lead, refusing to be raised. Eventually, when it was raised again, the procession had barely restarted before thunder burst through the clouds and lightning split the sky. Then the heavens poured down rain, soaking the procession and all the penitents. The downpour became torrential so that the procession had to halt; water, inches deep, filled the streets, making them slippery, and the flood soon threatened to wash away the children in the procession. Struggling, the icon’s bearers eventually managed to return the Hodegetria to Saint Sophia as gloom settled over the city, less from the weather than the omens that clearly stated the Virgin had refused their prayers and penance.

Worse, the next day, God’s grace had left the city. Since its construction by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, Saint Sophia had held within it the Holy Light as its protector. But that night, a great glow was seen in the sky. First, the sentries on the walls and then people in the streets had cried out in fear that the city had caught on fire. All the sky lit up, but the flame was located only on the roof of Saint Sophia. The flame shot forth from the window and circled the entire dome several times before gathering itself into one great and indescribable flash of blinding light that shot up into the heavens. Clearly, the Holy Light had returned from whence it had come, no longer offering God’s protection to the city. The sight had been so overwhelming to Constantine that now, two days later, it still made him sick to think of it. Had he himself lost favor with God? At that fatal moment, such a thought had caused him to go numb throughout his body and collapse to the ground in a faint, remaining unconscious for hours.

When Constantine finally woke, the people had begged him to flee the city before it was too late, but he had insisted he would not do so. To leave his people solely to save his own life would be to heap immortal ridicule upon his name. And even if he did leave, what life would remain for him, without a throne, marked as a coward for not standing by his supporters in their hour of greatest need? Better he stay to fight, and if need be, die with his people.

He had seen both these catastrophes with his own eyes, but the most shocking event he alone had experienced. Early the next morning, when he had gone out walking in the palace gardens, he had come face-to-face with an old man with a flowing white beard in a tattered black robe. Constantine had never seen the man before, and he could not understand how the man had entered his private gardens. But before he could accost the man, the stranger looked him square in the eyes, his own eyes piercingly gray, and without showing fear or deference for Constantine’s station, he said, “Greetings, Constantine, last of the Romans.”

Constantine had frozen, feeling himself unable to speak or move. His mind went blank for what seemed the longest time as the question “Who are you?” struggled to rise to his lips. His first fear was that the man might be an assassin, sent by the Turks—who but an assassin would dare to enter his private garden at dawn? But then, slowly, the answer came to his lips in a whisper.

“The Wandering Jew.”

Before the words fully escaped Constantine’s mouth, the man turned and disappeared behind a clump of trees. Constantine ran after him, so stunned that he pursued him into the bushes, scratching himself on their branches but unable to see anyone. After a couple of minutes, he calmed himself and returned to the walkway, fearing his people had seen his frantic behavior. Had he dreamt it, or had he truly seen the man? But he could remember those words clearly; they yet rung in his ears: “Greetings, Constantine, last of the Romans.”

Gustave Dore's depiction of The Wandering Jew, said to have been a shoemaker cursed by Christ to wander the earth until Christ's Second Coming.

Gustave Dore’s depiction of The Wandering Jew, said to have been a shoemaker cursed by Christ to wander the earth until Christ’s Second Coming.

He knew such a meeting forebode great ill. The Wandering Jew—he whom Christ had cursed to wander the earth until His return—had long been rumored to appear at pivotal moments in history. Stories claimed he had been seen in the city once before, back in 1204 when the Latin Crusaders had sacked Constantinople. He had also been seen at the surrender of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187, amid the mob during the Peasants Revolt in England in 1381, and most recently in the crowd when the Maid of Orleans had been burned at the stake in Rouen, France in 1431. Constantine had heard rumors in recent days that the Wandering Jew had been sighted in Constantinople’s streets, but he had dismissed such rumors as folk tales. Now, he could not imagine who else this man could be who dared to address him as “last of the Romans”—an ominous reference, indeed.

The next day, Constantine knew his death was certain when twelve Venetian ships arrived to aid the city, bringing with them the news that no larger fleet nor other enforcements would come. Twelve ships would be of little help against the incredible Ottoman navy and the hordes of Turkish soldiers preparing for the final assault they all knew was coming. No one could accurately tell the numbers, but a city of just over fifty thousand souls—a city that in its glorious past had been home to a million residents—was being protected by an army of less than twenty thousand against some one hundred thousand Turks, plus their allies. Surely, the situation was hopeless.

Constantine had little doubt that tonight was the last time the sun would set on the city before it was taken, and pillaged, and perhaps even destroyed. The walls could well be broken through before dawn. The Turkish cannons had already damaged them beyond repair. The conquest would happen as soon as Sultan Mehmet II led the next charge.

Nothing was left to do but offer prayers, though prayers now seemed of little help. Nevertheless, Constantine had spent the last day at service in Saint Sophia, on his knees before his people and God, begging forgiveness for their transgressions. Afterwards, he had spent time here on the ramparts with his longtime friend and advisor Sphrantzes. And then he had sought some time alone, time to prepare himself for what he did not doubt was his imminent death. He would do so nobly, as Emperor of the Romans, and in a manner to make his ancestors proud, but he would be dead nonetheless, and he had his doubts that God would have mercy upon his soul after the signs he had already seen.

“Your majesty.” He turned to hear himself addressed and found the captain of the guard speaking. “The Turks are about to break through the wall. You must return to the palace. You must look to your own safety.”

“You know better,” Constantine replied, already in his armor. “Come; we will fight together, and may God have mercy on our souls.”

The Turks were firing their cannons. It was almost half-past one in the morning. Just as the emperor joined his army before the St. Romanus Gate, a cannonball came ripping through the wall, sending stone and men flying, and by the time Constantine and his men recovered from the shock, three hundred Turks had poured through, their voices roaring as they entered the city. In panic, some of the Romans fled into the streets, desperate to see to their own and their families’ safety, but most stood fighting beside their emperor and the officers.

The Romans fought violently, but they were far outnumbered, and while the battle raged at the great crumbling opening in the wall for several minutes, eventually, the Romans were cut down as the Turks began to spread and pillage throughout Constantinople.

Constantine found himself covered in blood as his sword continued to slice at the Turks before him, but within a few minutes, he was surrounded by his enemies. He had taken care not to wear anything to make the enemy suspect he was the emperor, for he knew if they discovered his identity, his life would be spared, but only because the sultan would want to hold him as a prisoner. No, he would much rather die here with his people than be forced to go down on bended knee before Mehmet II, or worse, be paraded through the streets by his captors.

Suddenly, Constantine felt a great pain in his back. He immediately became dizzy; for a moment, he felt his knees buckle and he thought he would collapse, but then he experienced a great lifting feeling, as if he were floating into the air. He could only think that his soul was leaving his body. Had he been slain? Was he now dead? Was he being taken to Heaven—could death be this quick?

Looking up, bending his head all the way back, he saw he was in the arms of a great winged man, a beautiful gorgeous man, a man a good couple of feet taller than him—no, not a man but an angel.

And then all went black.

*

When he opened his eyes, Constantine found himself lying on a cot inside a barren room all built of stone. He could see the sky, but nothing else from the window, making him assume he was quite high up. All he heard were birds chirping and a breeze rustling through the trees. No screams of his people. No cannons booming. And most surprisingly, he felt no fear.

Was he dead? But, surely, Heaven did not look like the barren room of a castle.

For a moment, he relished the quiet, but his curiosity overcame him. He sat up and continued to look out the window. From his sitting position, he could see what appeared to be a marsh, and beyond that a river, and then just a green row of trees and a lush countryside. He appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. Certainly, he was far from Constantinople.

“Where am I?” he muttered, about to put his feet on the floor when the door opened. In walked a man whom Constantine had only seen once before.

“You!” Constantine gasped.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Arranged Marriage Perfect Juxtapose in Gothic Twister: An Interview with bestselling author Michelle M. Pillow

Today I’m pleased to host Michelle M. Pillow, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Forget Me Not, previously reviewed on this blog, and numerous other Gothic, romance, and shapeshifter novels.

How long have you been writing professionally?

My first paranormal romance was published in 2004 under the title The Mists of Midnight. It has since been revised and was just re-released under the title Forget Me Not.

michellepillowHow many novels have you published?

Over 100.

Wow. What’s your secret for producing so much? Do you write on a specific schedule?

I wish there was a magic formula I could share, but it comes down to hard work. I treat writing like a career—one that I love, but one that demands a lot of work and dedication due to the competitive nature of the business. It’s a full-time-plus job that I’m always doing.

At any given time I’ll have several projects in various stages. Some are in the planning and research stage. Others are being written. Then others will be with editors. Then there are aspects of being a professional author that people often forget about—namely marketing and promotions. It’s not all book signings and appearances, either. I’ve had to learn how to build websites and run online ad campaigns, and build graphics. It’s a balancing act, and there are times where I’m up until 3 a.m. just to make a deadline.

All that said, I absolutely love my job. To be a writer, I think that’s important. You have to love it, feel it inside of you as something you have to do, or this industry and the sacrifices it demands will wear you down fast.

Are all your books in the same genre?

As a writer, I love to tell a story and not be limited by one time period or genre, so you’ll see a variety of books under my name. When I create characters and the worlds they live in, I like to set them down and throw things at them, and then just let them react the way their personalities and histories would dictate. I often never know how a story is going to end when I start it.

Which authors inspire you?

In high school, I loved the section of the library where I’d find books that hadn’t been checked out for decades. This ended up being a lot of the literary classics—Austen, Bronte, Dumas, James Fenimore Cooper, and Tolstoy. Pride and Prejudice is still a favorite. The romantic in me loves the courtship of Darcy and Elizabeth, including his not-so-well-done first marriage proposal. These books were like little buried treasures I’d read on my lunch breaks. I have always loved history and, ultimately, went to college to study it, and these books afforded a peek into historical lives and struggles.

Later, I discovered Steinbeck, including his travelogue, Travels with Charley: In Search of America. His insights into the wide variety of people he met, and into the universal feeling people had in longing to be somewhere else, anywhere but where they were, spoke to me, as I began to consider my own characters and their motivations.

Many of my books have historical and/or paranormal influences, even if they are not strictly historically set. Some of the stories that inspire me have inspired many, including Shelley and Stoker, along with various other Gothic writers and ideas. I find the Victorian notions of vampires entertaining and very in line with societal beliefs at the time—including not being able to enter a home without an invitation, which reflected the social art of how to properly call on a person’s home and receive guests as a way to safeguard decent people from evil. Edgar Allan Poe was another author I enjoyed, especially the mental breakdown in “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

In your latest novel Forget Me Not, arranged marriage is the pretense for the story, which offers up all kinds of stringent gender roles. Was it a conscious decision to do that?

Arranged marriages in the 1800s are simply a continuation of a phenomena that had been around since ancient times. Marriage was seen as a logical choice, from the desire to make advantageous matches for a family that were both financially sound and socially acceptable. It was with the Victorians that the idea of romantic love really started to take real hold. Consider for a moment Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; theirs is recognized as a love match. Forget Me Not is set during the Regency period, in a world that really marks a time of change between the thought processes of the Middle Ages to modern day society as we recognize it. Now, we would hardly think it acceptable (and rightly so) that a woman belonged first to her father, and then to her husband, including her belongings.

To be honest, though, arranged marriages create the perfect backdrop for romance and conflict to happen.

Does your main character Isabel Drake rebel against protocol?

Absolutely! Unlike her meeker younger sister, Jane, Isabel cares less about being a good and dutiful daughter, and wants more out of life than to marry for money and comfort. The book takes place in 1812 when marriages weren’t necessarily always arranged, but they were treated as more of a business decision than simply off the basis of love and desire. The general opinion was that women needed a breadwinner, and men wanted a woman who could take care of the home and children. Marriages became more of a partnership agreement, often instigated or encouraged by families.

As an interesting fact, in regards to a woman being the property of her husband, in 1882 the Married Women’s Property Act became law to allow a woman to own presents given to her. True story.

Dougal Weston is Isabel’s tutor in the novel. Would you say he is the archetypal aloof romantic hero in the tradition of Mr. Darcy, or is he more of an antihero?Dougal is a classic leading man with his own personal goal to achieve in the story, nothing to do with Isabel at first, even though he appears as her tutor. But when their stories collide, this whole new realm of possibilities opens up. It adds several layers to the story, which peel back at the right time. Like everyone, these characters are complicated with many motivations and needs.

Michelle Pillow's new novel Forget Me Not blends regency fiction with the paranormal for some surprising romance.

Michelle Pillow’s new novel Forget Me Not blends regency fiction with the paranormal for some surprising romance.

Speaking of layers, there’s no shortage of twists—well thought of twists—in Forget Me Not. Did they come naturally, or were they devices as milestones that you built the story around?

Great question. I was very lucky with this story. It was one of the first books I wrote, and it was actually the first one that was published back in 2004. And it flowed from start to finish. My muse was kind to me back then.

Talking of muses, how do see your muse?

She’s a crazy lady with an endless supply of cups of coffee, and a very demanding personality. I think she’d be happiest if I typed two books at once. Dr. Who fans will know what I’m talking about when I liken her to the angel statue in “Blink.”

How or where does Forget Me Not fit in the stack of Michelle M. Pillow’s works?

Well, it’s romance, which is what I do. But then the Regency and the Gothic (which I classify as Paranormal) aspect of it puts Forget Me Not slightly off center from my futuristic and shifter works. When I started writing, Historicals were what I really wanted to do. But as it turned out, I found traction with other subgenres of romance.

Is there a follow up to Forget Me Not?

No. Forget Me Not is a standalone title. I do think it gives the reader’s mind plenty to daydream about and imagine in the world created, away from the words actually written.

I do have other historical novels, including the National RT Award winner Maiden and the Monster. It is a medieval set historical romance. I also have other stories with the same feel and tone as Forget Me Not. One would be the shorter work, Everlastingly.

Thank you, Michelle, for joining me today. Where can we learn more about your novels?

Visit me at www.MichellePillow.com. Information and buy links for all of my novels are there. They can be found at most major bookstores. Thank you for having me.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Michelle Pillow’s New Novel Reflects that Gothic Romance Is Alive and Well

As a scholar of the classic Gothic novel of the nineteenth century, from time to time I like to read twenty-first century Gothic novels to see how well the seeds that Mrs. Radcliffe planted are flourishing. I’m happy to report that authors like Michelle Pillow are keeping the Gothic tradition alive and well by utilizing standard Gothic plot devices but making them their own as the Gothic evolves into something more spiritual and less terrifying than its originators may have first imagined.

Michelle Pillow's new novel Forget Me Not blends regency fiction with the paranormal for some surprising romance.

Michelle Pillow’s new novel Forget Me Not blends regency fiction with the paranormal for some surprising romance.

Forget Me Not has all the classic Gothic elements a reader could want, and it draws heavily upon those early novels for its setting and atmosphere. We can also define it as a regency novel—since it’s set in England in 1812—when George IV was still Prince Regent of England. Readers today might call it paranormal rather than Gothic, and, of course, it also falls into the romance novel category.

The story begins when Isabel Drake and her sister Jane are speculating about whether Rothfield Park is haunted. The family has let the manor house from its owner, the Marquis of Rothfield. Legend says that during a fire, a child and servant died in the house. Jane claims that she has seen evidence of hauntings in the castle, but Isabel thinks Jane has just let her imagination get the better of her after reading a “shilling shocker.” (Shilling shockers were popular short books in the nineteenth century that often plagiarized longer best-selling Gothic novels and were abridged to be affordable, costing only a shilling.) This scene recalls Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and the thrills that Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe have over reading “horrid” novels by Mrs. Radcliffe and others.

Isabel, however, has bigger problems than ghosts. Her parents do not like how she treats her governess so they have decided to hire a tutor approved by the colonel, nephew to the Marquis of Rothfield, whom they plan for her to marry. Isabel wants nothing to do with marrying the colonel or with a new tutor.

In anger, Isabel goes riding and comes to the woods, where a heavy mist is setting in. She meets there a mysterious child who asks her to play with her, but Isabel refuses, feeling spooked. As she tries to return home, she has an accident with a tree branch and falls from her horse.

Isabel has no memory of the accident, but by the time she recovers, she finds her parents have left her alone at Rothfield with her new tutor, Dougal Weston. Here, I admit, my willing suspension of disbelief was a bit challenged—no self-respecting noble family of this time would leave their daughter alone with just the servants and a handsome male tutor—but Michelle Pillow will provide some surprising and ultimately believable explanations for this chain of events before the novel is over.

Dougal Weston turns out to be unlike any tutor Isabel ever expected. He really doesn’t teach her much of anything—just asks her to read and then discuss with him what she read. Isabel soon starts to suspect he isn’t a tutor but someone with an ulterior motive for being at Rothfield.

Nevertheless, Isabel finds herself falling in love with him and confesses to him that she is now repeatedly seeing the ghost child. Dougal appears interested in the history of the house and the ghost child, but he also tries to comfort Isabel and calm her fears. His comforting eventually goes a bit too far—though Isabel doesn’t object—and you guess it, they have quite enjoyable sex. Before long, Isabel is starting to consider how she might shirk off her social status and marriage expectations to run off and live in a cottage with Dougal.

Eventually, however, Isabel begins to suspect Dougal is just using her to learn more about the ghost child. Dougal then asks Reverend Stillwell to speak to Isabel about the ghosts. Reverend Stillwell is a sort of medium who can communicate with the dead; he explains things to Isabel about ghosts that make her feel more comfortable and realize she isn’t crazy. He also will encourage Isabel and Dougal to seek happiness.

I can’t say more without giving away all the plot twists, but I will just say that I love how Michelle Pillow takes old Gothic themes and makes them new. Before the story is over, there’s even a cursed man who has made a Faustian pact to obtain knowledge from evil wizards in exchange for his soul. However, he can prevent himself from going to hell if he captures other souls for the devil—a classic Victorian twist previously used by authors like George W.M. Reynolds in The Necromancer (1852). Pillow also draws on regency novel conventions—there’s even a runaway marriage to Gretna Green, worthy of a Jane Austen novel. Finally, I didn’t see the final plot twist at the end, though I think I should have, but in any case, I was delighted by it.

Forget Me Not is not quite Jane Austen, but if you enjoyed books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, then Forget Me Not should give you plenty of ghostly pleasure. If you’re a fan of television shows like The Ghost Whisperer or films like The Sixth Sense, you’ll also find more enjoyable modern spins on ghosts and the Gothic in these pages. After you finish Forget Me Not, I suspect you will want to read more of Michelle Pillow’s novels—fortunately, she has written plenty in both the romance and paranormal genres.

For more information about Forget Me Not and Michelle Pillow, visit www.MichellePillow.com.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.GothicWanderer.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Giveaway of The Gothic Wanderer at Goodreads

GothicWanderercoverThe Gothic Wanderer

by Tyler R. Tichelaar

Giveaway ends October 21, 2016.

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Prince Lestat: A Review of Anne Rice’s Return to Her Vampire Roots

I was absolutely delighted when I heard that Anne Rice would be publishing a new book in her vampire series. I admit I was greatly disappointed by the Christ the Lord and Songs of the Seraphim books, but The Wolf Gift and its sequel gave me new hope, so what could be better than a new vampire novel?

Anne Rice returns to her vampire roots with her newly published novel "Prince Lestat"

Anne Rice returns to her vampire roots with her newly published novel “Prince Lestat”

And when I read the description of Prince Lestat, it sounded even better than all the more recent books in The Vampire Chronicles, because let’s face it, the series went downhill after Queen of the Damned, but Rice decided in this new book to go back to the themes in Queen of the Damned and expand upon them. Anyone who read Queen of the Damned will remember Akasha, who called herself The Queen of Heaven and really was the first vampire. She went on a rampage in that novel to kill all the other vampires until the vampires all had a showdown, resulting in Akasha’s death and the demon inside her, named Amel, being transported into the vampire Mekare. Now in Prince Lestat, it is time for that demon to awaken after years of lying dormant inside Mekare.

Let me state here that I am going to give away some of the plot, so you may not want to read further if you haven’t yet read the novel.

The novel begins with Lestat hearing the Voice, a mysterious voice in his head that he soon learns is being heard by many other vampires. At first, no one is sure who or what this voice is, but in time, it becomes apparent it is the voice of Amel, the being trapped inside Mekare and previously inside Akasha, who is responsible for the Dark Gift and creation of the vampires. Amel now says he is miserable and cannot experience the world well from being trapped inside Mekare. He is seeking for a new vampire to live inside.

Before that issue is resolved, a few other surprises occur in the novel. Lestat meets Fareed, a doctor turned vampire, who is doing tests on vampires. Among those tests is trying to determine just what the differences are that make vampires and also whether they can breed—Rice’s vampires are almost all homosexual, but Lestat ends up fathering a child with a mortal woman here. Not until later does he learn, however, that he now has a human son named Viktor. We also learn about the origins of the Talamasca, the secret society that studies supernatural beings and has been featured in several of the novels, both The Vampire Chronicles and The Mayfair Witches series.

The novel moves along well through the first part of roughly seventy-five pages, but the second part, which continues past the three-hundred page mark, quickly starts to bog down the book. We are shown one vampire after another being contacted by the Voice. The Voice tries to play mind games with the vampires, seeking one of them to free him from Mekare. Finally, one vampire, Rhosh, succumbs to his desires and goes to the compound where Mekare and her sister Maharet and their companion Khayman live. Rhosh kills Maharet and Khayman, but he is so horrified by what he has done that Mekare gets away from him.

In the end, the other vampires confront Rhosh. However, even though he is basically defeated, they realize the Voice will rise again and seek to influence someone else. Lestat finally agrees to take the spirit of Amel into him and Mekare agrees to his doing so. Some reviewers at Amazon have said the ending is weird, and it is since Lestat basically has to remove Mekare’s eye and suck out Amel, as if eating her brain. But weird or not, I’m sure Rice knows it goes back to ancient rituals and beliefs that eating someone else’s heart or brain allows you to gain that person’s courage or wisdom. I’m sure it’s intended then to be symbolic in a way.

What also is interesting is that when Lestat consumes Amel, he basically becomes the protector of the life force of all the vampires. For that reason, he is named Prince Lestat. By now, the vampires have all come together, realizing they must work together to protect themselves, and so a sort of vampire government is formed—a type of benevolent elected monarchy with Lestat as the leader. I suspect this move in the novel is a sign that this book will definitely be the last vampire novel because it brings us full circle to answer the very questions Louis first asked in Interview with the Vampire when he became a vampire—not only as to the origins of vampires, but whether there are other vampires—now there are no more questions. All the vampires know one another and are organized. I suspect it’s equally intentional that the novel ends depicting Louis thinking about Lestat as his beloved prince whom he will soon be with—also ending the feud that began between them in Interview with the Vampire—and although they have gotten along better since then, now it’s as if their relationship is complete and resolved.

Is Prince Lestat Rice’s best novel? No, it is a bit too marked by her flowery, lush style that at times enchants but also allows her to go on and on at times with the characters repeating themselves or in this case each other since we are given far more points of view from different vampires than we need—in fact, this novel could easily have been a third if not half as long as its 451 pages. It also is lacking in action, although there are two or three stunning moments of action at key moments, such as when Rhosh kills Maharet and Khayman. I would rank it after the first three novels in the series and maybe also after Blood and Gold, but at least, it feels like a more complete end to the series than Blood Canticle was.

Whatever this book’s faults, I enjoyed visiting with my old vampire “friends” again, and I am glad Rice continues to write. I most appreciate her for how she writes within a Gothic tradition. She always does her homework and her novels are filled with references that make it clear she knows her vampire, werewolf, and supernatural novel history, unlike Stephenie Myers who, I believe falsely, claims she knew nothing about vampires before writing the Twilight series. For that reason, I kind of hope Rice writes more werewolf novels—I think it’s time to let the vampires rest.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and The Children of Arthur novel series. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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