A San Francisco Review of Books original
‘The covenant was created by the council of elders. We have to follow it under the threat of true death.”
California author ML Worthingham is a fresh voice in the burgeoning field of writers whose focus is on vampire fantasy novels. Vampirology is a popular theme on video games, the cinema, and television series and the books about these dark creatures and the manner in which they are portrayed is a point of contention for Worthington. He views his stories as a dark alternate reality interlacing known history with the unique violent history of the continental vampires of Europe. Having started his debut novel THE GLOAMING: THE RISE OF THE STALTH VAMPIRE ELDER while in Amsterdam, Worthington now lives, works in IT, and writes in Silicon Valley.
A debut publication, this, with a different slant on vampires – they are among us as he calls our attention to the first page of his intoxicating novel: ‘Valentin von Hahn walked a cobblestoned alley called Pijlsteeg, the rounded stones beneath his feet still shiny from the last rain as he headed toward the center of the city. He wore an untucked black Hugo Boss shirt, Scotch and Soda jeans, Van Liers on his feet, Rolex on his wrist, and tousled brown hair. The lingering summer gloaming was upon the city, and for a very long time, this had been the start of his day. In the slowly fading light of the northern European summer, the air still and— to many— stifling with seasonal heat and humidity,people passed by him, some glancing, some not. He smelled the sweet scent of jenever, antecedent to modern-day gin distilling, in Wynand Fockink, heard the buzz of tourists high, drunk, and excited to be away from the daily grind of their real lives. Valentin loved Mokum, its warm summer embrace, refuge from the hard world outside, provider of much, and haven from the many that feared and hated. Tonight would be like many before. Walk the public squares in search of that girl, the one. More often than not, the search would lead to a bar or club later, as fear and suspicion checked the instinct of most. Valentin had come to terms with his life long ago. He did it well, the practice and execution down to a fine science, or was it an art? He would like to think so, but deep down he knew he was now more survivor than artist. Either way, he was known as one of the best— handsome, charming, convincing, suave, with that moneyed European air of one who maybe possessed the lineage of nobles. He knew all the responses to no, but more importantly, he knew when not to waste his time. Time, he had plenty of that, but to waste it was a sacrilege. Tonight Valentin would meet a good girl, or a bad girl, it didn’t matter which, and tomorrow night she would be all but forgotten, not because he was mean or callous, but for her own good. Sometimes he would meet a woman he wished he could see again, but only for a moment. Love was not for him, or at least not the love felt by the hoards of tourists streaming by in the street, but he was fine with that too. Almost. He didn’t hate them or feel any pangs of jealousy. These tourists with their on-holiday mentality and just-this-one-time morals were what made his life easy. He loved them in his way as he walked down the street, the wet warmth of the city a blanket enveloping him.’
Worthington’s prose is polished and immediately magnetizes the reader. The charactershe creates are credible: the postulate about vampires is one that is shudderingly real. The novel is long but reads quickly because of the style and the forward momentum of his story.
The plot is well served by the synopsis: ‘In the aftermath of the mass slaughter of vampires in eighteenth century Europe, Valentin tries to keep the fragile covenant not tokill mortals intact through a strategy of abundance. Working from the shadows as vampire elders rule the three nests of modern day Amsterdam, he attempts to manage the finances of the continental vampires while mentoring the newly turned American Steve. After dealing with a vampire hunter in Amsterdam, Valentin, Karolina, and Steve travel to the primal vampire nest in tunnels beneath the Mother of Cities to attend the annual council of elders ruled by Lord Makru. Things go horribly wrong though when a newly turned American girl on summer break tells a mortal everything about the vampires, but fails to feed on him, spurring yet another descendant of vampire hunters into action. Karolina's plans to start throwing feeding parties on unsuspecting mortals again after two and half centuries are put on hold as unrest in the four London nests spills over to Amsterdam, resulting in violence and the true death for some. When she and Viona finally start throwing feeding parties at the mansion in Amsterdam and the palace in the Mother of Cities another summer concludes with shocking developments and heart breaking lose.’
Welcome to the top of the heap, ML Worthington – your version of vampire dramas is exceptionally fine! Grady Harp, September 17
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