Friday, February 09, 2007

No Dominion

I generally don't like vampire novels. Like most fantasy novels, the same elements are constantly recycled and revisited. You have the warped relationship with sex, the fear of the Other and so on. Charlie Huston has taken vampires as a subject and placed them in a noir context. I prefer Noir's social emphasis over the straight horror approach of most vampire stories. His No Dominion, a sequel to Already Dead, is a hardboiled mystery that doubles as a societal critique.

The vampires live in modern day Manhattan. Nearly all are affiliated with a Clan, which mirror existing socioeconomic groups. In the North, the Hood dominate. In Midtown, the Coalition rules. The South is a hodge podge but includes the idealistic Society. The Clans help get blood to the vampires, as they don't want human society to know they exist. A large part of the novel involves the power relationships between Clans and the lengths to which they will go to maintain and preserve power.

His main character, Joe, is a nearly a caricature. He is a rogue vampire, unaligned with the dominating Clans. Immune to pain and threat, his only weakness if for his HIV-positive human girlfriend, who doesn't know he is a vampire. So he really shouldn't work. The quality of the writing helps, but so does the fact that Joe tends to survive by being a bit smarter than a bit tougher.

The plot of the book involves a drug which actually affects vampires. The virus that causes vampirism tends to destroy toxins and other viruses, so this new drug sets Joe off on the normal noir path: 1) investigate, 2) cross the wrong people, 3) get ass kicked, 4) find resolution (which involves cathartic other people asses' kicking), 5) understand what REALLY is going on. The fact that the book can be formulaic in this way and still gripping is a testament to Huston's skills as a writer and the strength of his insights into power relationships.

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