Tag Archives: Interview with the Vampire

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.)

_________________________________________________

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.

 

Advertisements

9 Comments

Filed under Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula

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.

_______________________________________________________

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemporary Gothic Novels