TSR, $5.99, ISBN 1-56076-155-5
Fantasy Horror, 1991
Vampire of the Mists is the first novel in the Ravenloft line, and hence, it is meant to introduce that setting to fans of tabletop gaming as well as fans of fantasy fiction in general. It’s not an easy task to balance the exposition needed to introduce the setting with the other elements to create compelling stories, so perhaps it is to be expected that this one ends up being a bit of a mess. For one, the focus of the story, despite what the cover and the back cover synopsis may suggest, eventually shifts more from the supposed protagonist Jander Sunstar to more human vampire hunters. Hence, fans of vampire fiction may want to tamper their expectations a bit.
Jander Sunstar, like his eye-rolling name would suggest, is a sunfire elf. He glows like a sun, just like anyone in his race would, and if that’s not special enough, he’s also a 500-year old vampire that constantly bemoans what he has become and wants to feed on animals only. Additionally, he has special powers that wow even the most powerful vampire in Ravenloft, and some people in Barovia, that vampire boss’s realm, believe Jander to be a god.
Jander starts out in love with this frail woman in a mental asylum, Anna, and for some reason, she doesn’t age at all during the few decades that he visits her secretly in that place. Hmm, maybe that’s why he loves her, as who doesn’t want a hot partner that will remain that way forever, after all. Don’t worry, though, this isn’t some sleazy affair of a vampire molesting some poor loony that doesn’t know what is happening to her. Jander spends all his time with her generally caring for her, talking to her, and moping over how he can never be the true love she deserves. Then, one day, she dies of fever, and after failing to turn her into a vampire, he blacks out and when he comes to, he realizes that he has slaughtered everyone in that asylum.
The mists of Ravenloft shortly after show up, and he unknowingly walks through them to end up in Barovia, the realm that also acts as a prison for Count Strahd Von Zarovich, the most powerful vampire in that realm. After initially bumbling his way into meeting some secondary characters, he is invited to Strahd’s castle. Hoping to learn about Anna, who told her that she came from this place before she died, and discover what made her loony, Jander ends up staying with Strahd for years and… doing nothing aside from enabling Strahd and even teaching that evil vampire how to be more powerful. Well, Jander whines and mopes a lot too, but he doesn’t do anything. Even in the penultimate fight with Strahd, Jander is mostly a sidekick.
So, all that supposed powers at his disposal, and Jander does… nothing. In fact, I will argue that his passiveness and occasional stupidity actually cause the people he has promised to protect to die at the hands of Strahd and his vampire harem. Jander’s grandest action in Barovia, people, is to eventually decide that he’d like to commit suicide by waiting for sun—after whining so often earlier that he’d rather not do that, thank you. Say it with me: most useless “powerful tragic protagonist” ever. Naturally, he has to be a whiny windbag in the process.
He’s also a colossal dumbass. It takes him a decade or two before he finally realizes that maybe his Anna from Barovia may be linked somehow to Strahd’s thwarted affections to one Tatyanna. He’s not deaf and he can spell, so it’s not like he can’t tell that there’s an “Anna” in “Tatyanna”. Wait, he also takes that long to realize that Strahd, who has shown that he is a cruel monster that toys with his victims, has been lying to him all this while, what a shocker. Oh my god, what a dunderhead. How long does it take for him to do basic sums, I wonder?
The human characters fare better, although the potentially most interesting character—a boy saved by Jander that grew up to become a priest of a version of Lathander patterned after Jander—is ultimately wasted in favor for the more conventional, and hence boring, hot guy that gets all the girls to his yard when he’s not being an awesome vampire hunter. Then again, them faring better could be due to the fact that, unlike a certain vampire pissant, these humans are doing things instead of whining incessantly. It’s a bit of damper, though, that the most poignant moments in this story come from characters that never live to see the happy ending; the ones that do end up the final peeps are also the most boring ones.
There are some twists in the end that don’t make sense to me the more I think about them, but what is more annoying is the clumsy plopping in of jarring flashbacks in the middle and later portions of the story. Do I care how Jander became a vampire? No, he’s a whiny douchebag that enables evil to happen, and he can choke on a stake for all I care. Do I care about Strahd’s background? Well, I may, if these folks hadn’t then devoted an entire novel to it. Meanwhile, readers unfamiliar with the setting may find themselves wondering what the mists are all about, what the big deal is about the Vistanis that show up and then just vanish from the story later on, why Strahd can’t leave, and why it’s such a big deal for him to keep checking out women that look like her when he’s already turning every hot babe that catches his eye into a member of his vampire harem anyway. The setting isn’t properly detailed in this story, and coupled to Jander, the supposed star of the show, being such a colossal passive idiot, I suspect that many of these readers may decide to read something else after a while.
Oh, and this story also succeeds in making Strahd come off as a bumbling, reckless idiot with more pride than sense. I can only take a deep breath and tell myself to relax before I roll up my eyes too hard and cause a nerve to hurt.
Vampire of the Mists is actually one of the more popular entries in this line, but I can only wonder how much of that adulation is carried over from the popularity of Strahd in the first place. Maybe it’s because that fellow is not my favorite darklord—for me, it’s hard to choose between Elena Faith-Hold and Gabrielle Aderre—but I honestly find this one a pretty unfocused read that doesn’t seem to know what to do with its cast of potentially intriguing characters. Back to the mists this goes!