Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Gay vampires -- as you never saw vampires before: Mel Keegan style

If you think you know a thing or two about vampires ... how they sleep in earth-filled coffins, hang out in creepy old houses festooned with webs, can't see their reflections in mirrors, have giant canine teeth and rip the throats out of virgin girls in graveyards in the wee small hours of the morning ... think again. Mel Keegan's vampire (or vampyre, as it's spelt in these books) are different. Very different.

These people are immortals ... but they come in two kinds, or races, or strains. First, there's the vampire themselves. who are mostly thousands of years old -- these are the individuals who've managed to survive since the time of the Battle of Troy, against at least two thousand years of persecution. They're a gentle people, old, wise, and sad, because only a handful of them have survived. They live a different lifestyle; they do sustain themselves with blood; they do fear the daylight for medical reasons ...

Leave it to Mel Keegan to think the whole thing through and diagnose an ancient virus, transmitted exactly the same way as HIV, that makes people turn into vampires -- and this is where you get your second race. The vampires are an ancient race of humans who carry the virus, and when it's transmitted to normal humans, the human mutates, or changes, over the space of months, and becomes a changeling. The changelings also become immortal but they're sterile; they carry the virus and can pass it on to other humans if they're not damned careful, like HIV. What the virus does to them is, it makes them shun the daylight the same as the elder vampire, and makes it impossible for them to digest anything but ... you got it. Blood.

And then it starts to get complicated. Changelings are caught between two worlds -- the crass, callow human world they were born in, and the elegant, glittering, ancient world they aspire to ... but the humans hunt them down and the vampire (vampyre) won't accept them, because --

Hey, read the book. I have to stop right now, because if I even try to explain, the plot spoilers will be coming thick and fast. The story focuses on two gorgeous characters. The changeling is Michael Flynn, who's a "young" Irishman, an occultist and Tarot reader who's passing himself off in London high society in 1893 as the sufferer of a rare blood disease. He's also gay, by the way ... and beautiful. (Beauty is key to the plot of Nocturne ... like I said, read the book.) At a party one night he meets Captain Vincent Bantry, an army officer who was just retired from the service, badly injured. He's spent years in the Far East and seen all kinds of strange, weird things -- but nothing that prepares him for falling in love with Michael and stumbling into the vampyre world, and wanting desperately to become part of that world. The vampire characters are amazing. I absolutely fell in love with the vampire Chabrier, and the changeling Mario/Maria. The main romance is between Michael and Vincent. It will stand your hair on end. Trust me. The combination of the occult and the spice of a gay romance can't be resisted.

The story is set in England, France, Italy ... London, Paris, the Camargue ... and, well, the book makes you shiver, just thinking about it. It's 450pp of smallish type -- a huge book -- and you won't be able to get it out of your memory for weeks. You're going to want the second book (MK says there are more to come), and I'm going to do something I don't usually do. I'm going to continue right here and review the second book at the same time -- for a good reason. If you'll just trust me enough on this to get both at one time, you can combine postage at Amazon and save yourself some money!

(Incidentally, you can also throw in other MK books from DreamCraft on the same postage bill, because they're made and shipped by CreateSpace, which is one of Amazon's own companies. I looked into how much the postage is for folks downunder -- like self -- and it comes to a big saving. It costs $16.04 to ship one book, but only $32.10 to ship THREE. Every book you add to your order, they add $8.04, so if you can ship, say, four at a time instead of four separate packages, you just saved $24.12. That's nice. We like that.)

So, here we go with the second Keegan vampire book:

This story takes place about 12 years later than the first one and it's like an "episode" ... fully self-contained, no ends left dangling, has its own guest stars and all.

(I can give you a bit of insider information here. Being a proofie at DreamCraft, I've chatted with MK enough to know that Twilight certainly is an episode. There's another episode after the First World War, and another one in the 1930s (the Indiana Jones era), and then one in the 1960s, and one in the 1990s -- one in about 2030, and one in about 2050. The series has a plan to work to, it's going somewhere. All MK needs is the time to devote to writing the stories.)

Twilight takes place in 1905 ... automobiles and telephones and the police starting to get much more scientific in their approach to detective work and forensics. The vampire are up against a tougher world now. They have to get smarter if they're going to survive and stay hidden in a world that's getting technological. But all the same old "drives" are still working, which makes life more and more complicated. Just before Twilight opens, there's been a series of murders out in the west of England ... or has there? Looking at the details of the crimes, in the newspaper, Vince and Michael think they can see a vampire or changeling at work, and people are dying out there. They go out to Devonshire and take on the investigation ...

And now, I'm about out of things I can tell you about the plot! Like any Mel Keegan book, it gets very complicated, very fast. It'll also keep you turning pages till four o'clock in the morning if you start reading too late, so -- consider yourself warned. Twilight is only about half as long as Nocturne, and it can afford to be shorter. The first book had to set up the whole world, backstory all the characters, and so on. This book is definitely an episode in the lives of Michael and Vince and Chabrier and the others. I loved it as much as the first.

Is there a downside to these books? Only the fact I wish Mel Keegan would get on and write the others. But I also understand that working a job takes time away from writing, and the books will come out when they come out. (They'd come out a lot faster if a major publisher picked up the contract and offered decent printruns and advances ... but that's every writer's dream.)

Right now, you can get these two books in one package from Amazon.com (not dot-co-dot-uk, though) for $16.04 on shipping to Aust and NZ (a lot less for shipping to US and UK obviously). And if you were interested, you can also chuck in The Swordsman for an extra eight bucks postage, and something like the new DreamCraft edition of Fortunes of War or Aquamarine for another eight bucks shipping.

Nocturne and Twilight are highly recommended. AG's rating: 5 out of 5 stars on each one, and if you add them together, I'd award a 6 if I could.

And, in case you're building a parcel to save postage (esp. to Australasia region):