Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-076303-5
Paranormal Romance, 2006
If you haven’t read the book that comes before this one, After Midnight, and you intend to do so, please, for the love of whatever, press the back button on your browser now. In fact, try to forget the title of this particular book. After all, the very existence of this book, right down to the title, is a big spoiler for that book. Why are you still reading? Go away now and for heaven’s sake, do not even look at this book until you’re done with that book. You’re still reading this? Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
It’s a pity, really, that this book gives the entire game away for After Midnight because one of the most enjoyable things about that book is the way Teresa Medeiros kept me guessing as to whether Adrian Kane was a vampire in that book. Well, The Vampire Who Loved Me has a plot that is a spillover from that book: if you have read the previous book, you’ll realize that the vampire is Adrian’s brother, Julian. By the end of After Midnight, Portia Cabot, the sister of the heroine of the other book, has an encounter with Julian that could have been traumatizing if it also didn’t form a close bond of intimacy between them. Julian left at the end of that book to destroy the master vampire that sired the vampire that sired him (don’t ask; you really should read that book if you want to enjoy this one properly).
Now, Julian Kane is back in London, but he’s staying away from his family. At the same time, dead bodies are showing up in London, drained of blood. Portia and our bunch of friends led by Adrian (who is now a vampire slayer) wonder whether Julian has really lost his humanity and succumbed to the dark side. Can Portia save Julian and get her own “Buffy loves Spike 4eva!!!!” love story?
Now, the back blurb seems to suggest that this is another whiny vampire story. I know, I know, since Anne Rice discovered Jesus with the zeal reserved usually for people on their deathbeds and Laurell K Hamilton is more intent on making long-haired effeminate vampires with big weenies as her Anita Blake’s collection of multicolored vibrators, someone has to pick up the slack and continue writing about all these emo-laden angsty and oh-so-whiny vampire heroes. And trust me, Julian Kane in this book is pretty bad in that aspect. Let’s just say that we are talking about a band, Julian will be the fronts man for a college-rock group comprising members Lestat, Louis, and any random Sherrilyn Kenyon hero (just pick one), putting out songs all about why nobody loves these emo pretty boy vampires enough.
However, The Vampire Who Loved Me is all about subversiveness. This story has all the stock “Vampire: Emo” clichés you can imagine: your typical vampire slut-ho psychobitch villain who wants the hero, the hero who prefers to whine about how life sucks instead of actually trying to overcome the suckiness of his life, the hero who also opts to insist that he’s skanking and drinking and gambling because he’s unhappy (I always wonder about the intelligence of these guys who are having a ball with all kinds of fun in life but still managing to remain miserable after all that sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll), the “Oh no, the kid is in danger!” thing, and more. But at the same time, we have scenes such as this one on page 163 when Julian pushed Portia too far:
“What are you saying?” Portia fought to blink back a rush of fresh tears. “That it was noble of him to sacrifice his body on the altar of dissolution and debauchery? That he did it all for me?”
“He knew he couldn’t change what he was. Not even for you.”
“Ah, but that’s the rub, isn’t it, Caro? Once he found [the skanky ho vampire villain that Julian hooked up with prior to this story without realizing that she held his soul], he could have changed what he was. For me.” She shook her head, dashing a tear from her cheek. “I’ve wasted all these years believing I was the only one who could save him when he never really wanted to be saved at all.”
Caroline gently stroked a damp strand of hair from her cheek. “Perhaps he didn’t believe he was worth saving.”
“Perhaps he was right.”
Well said, Portia, and well played, Ms Medeiros. Of course, in the end Portia manages to save Julian as this story doesn’t completely throw the whole emo-vampire storyline formula out the window but Ms Medeiros never allows Portia to become a spineless doormat blindly pining for her boyfriend who treats her like a jerk, and neither does Ms Medeiros allow Julian to completely get away with acting like a crybaby pansy.
Portia is a mix of frustrating stupidity and unexpected ingenuity; she has her share of really dumb moments (such as visiting a vampire whom she’s convinced is a killer in the middle of the night and then letting him examine all the weapons she’s brought along to kill him because when he tells her that he’s not the killer, he’s naturally telling the truth) as well as moments where I feel like cheering her on because she displays an ability to learn from her mistakes or think for herself. Ms Medeiros manages to balance the two contrasting aspects of Portia pretty well to allow her to come off like a likeable young lady who is generally smart but acts dumb at times because she is understandably out of her league in a plot involving vampires and all.
Her attraction to Julian initially comes off like a silly girl’s starry-eyed infatuation for the bad boy in her neighborhood but as the story progresses, Portia demonstrates that she is no doormat to her infatuation. The fact that she can think clearly while still nurturing her infatuation gives the relationship between her and Julian a semblance of depths and even maturity. Portia also makes Julian a tolerable character when he’s the weakest link in this story. Being a thoroughly clichéd pretty boy crybaby vampire whose whines are deadlier than his bite, Julian would be painful to follow if Portia gives him leeway to treat her like a doormat while he wallows in his pity party for one. Instead, Portia challenges him and refuses to let him go too far in his self-absorbed antics, so Julian actually grows up, so to speak, as the story develops.
Another very nice aspect is the humor that never allows Julian to drag the story into a typical whine-and-moan affair. Some scenes such as Portia’s first encounter with the skank-ho villain Valentine start out sombre but end up borderline farcical, but that’s because this story is not all doom-and-angst like the back blurb and the packaging suggest it to be. Think of a typical well-made episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which Ms Medeiros openly admits is a big fan of) where there are moments of dark grimness woven seamlessly with moments of levity that can be cynical, self aware, or just plain absurd.
The secondary characters are very nicely integrated into the storyline. Julian’s bumbling buddy Cuthbert (or Cubby as Julian calls him) is too adorable for words. Adrian and Caroline provide some of this book’s more poignant moments in their interactions with both Julian and Portia, as well as some hilarious yet significant scenes of family interactions that tell me how our main characters have a strong support network in them if they ever need one. This story also has some well-written scenes of action and adventure although I wish the final confrontation with Valentine has been written in less melodramatic manner. All in all, I’m never bored while reading this book.
Fun, entertaining, and fluffy yet with enough depths and character development to give the story some emotional resonance, The Vampire Who Loved Me is a joy to read. Don’t be put off by the blurb and the packaging of this book if you’re worried that this story is going to go down the route of badly-written melodramatic whining and pining because Ms Medeiros manages to present a tale that is funny, romantic, dramatic, and tongue-in-cheek all at once here.