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Twilight Forever Rising

by Lena Meydan

Tor Books | September 28, 2010

Reviewed by Katherine Tomlinson

Lena Meydan is a best-selling fantasy author in Russia, where they take fantasy seriously and don’t consign it to a geek ghetto the way fantasy and its blood-brothers, horror and urban fantasy, have been shoved aside in the U.S.  Shoved aside until recently, that is; fantasy in all its guises—dark, epic, urban—is now driving the publishing industry, feeding a seemingly insatiable reader’s appetite for vampires, werewolves, and all creatures paranormal. 

    This novel straddles the line between dark fantasy and horror/romance, with its tale of warring clans of vampires and humans who are oblivious to their existence, but it has more in common with Machiavelli’s The Prince than it does with Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

    Twilight Forever Rising is a terrible name for a very good book.  Meydan’s prose is simultaneously lush and clean, dense with sensory input, and yet remains uncluttered—as if the writer were the love child of Tanith Lee and Ekaterina Sedia.  (The book is gracefully translated by Andrew Bromfield.)  The love story is achingly romantic, despite a heroine who is not always what we’d like her to be, and the overall plot is filled with high-level, high-stakes gamesmanship worthy of any political thriller.

    The world-building here is layered and dimensional.  The writer has filled in the gaps, stopped all the holes, and inked in the details.  The vampires use slang—one of the bad guys slings the epithet “blautsauger” (blood-sucker) at our hero—and they have customs and rites.  Meydan has created a mythos for her paranormal creatures that is original and precise, and in the process, she has crafted an absorbing read. 

      The story opens in an alley in an unnamed city in 1977, where rain has been pissing down for two days.  A vampire necromancer, the master of his house, has come to the alley to meet with a decadent branch of the vampire tree, a member of a family that has little use for their fellow blood-brothers and only one use for humans.  Betrayed by a powerful spell known as “The Medusa Kiss,” Vladislav Volfger is borne away to face a fate he knows will be far worse than death.

    Almost thirty years later, the events set in motion that rainy night have escalated to the point of open warfare.  While most of the vampire “houses” have signed a compact that keeps the peace between humans and their kind--allowing for a benign oversight from the shadows--the House of Nachterret wants to implement a “final solution” known as “The Golden Billion.”  Not only does the master of their house want to upset the status quo, he also has no compunction about puncturing the greatest secret of all—revealing the very existence of vampires.

    The Nachterret and their allies, the Asimans, mount an increasingly violent campaign against the other houses, with Miklosh Balza of the Nachterret whispering dark promises into the ear of an ambitious, beautiful vampire who gave up human love for an ever-lasting party life, and now has her regrets. 

    In fact, there is a melancholy strain of regret that weaves through much of the story like a minor key thread in a Russian folk song.  The novel’s protagonist, Darel, is acutely sensitive to the consequences of turning a human into a vampire, and keenly aware of what a bad bargain it can be for the human involved. 

   Unlike the standard-issue emo vampire, Darel’s gift of empathy is not just a character trait but a talent that makes him invaluable to his clan (the House of Dahanavar) and dangerous to the Nachterret.  He’s also dangerous to Loraine, the woman he loves, but despite all advice against pursuing her, he cannot stay away. 

    Darel has enemies, but he also has one very good friend, Chris, the necromancer who took Vladislav’s place, and earned the title of “Master of Death.”  Chris is a fantastic character and is the “wizard” of this particular magical universe.  He is there to balance the forces of evil represented by the Nachterret, genuinely frightening vampires who have gathered allies to their cause.  Miklosh, the leader of that clan, is more like the godfather of a Russian mafia family, and he is a great villain.  Novels like these need great villains.

    The story takes place in the present, but the backdrop feels more like Venice at the time of the Medici, with the various vampire clans maneuvering and manipulating their way into power.  Each house has its own kind of magic, specific to their clan, and in the world Meydan has created, those born into one house cannot use magic meant for another.  Or so it seems. 

    This is the first novel in a series that so far numbers four, so there is a lot of information front-loaded into the narrative.  While the characters all have ordinary names, there is a bewildering assortment of unfamiliar nomenclature to deal with simply in sorting out the titles of the various leaders.  Eventually, though, everyone’s alliances and allegiances become clear, and all those alien syllables start to click.

     If this book were like most vampire novels, the plot would revolve around the illicit relationship between Darel and Loraine.  His love for her goes way beyond “it’s complicated,” and he literally risks everything for her, an action that plays into the political plotting of his own house and its enemies.   Meydan’s novel is far more complex than that, however, and invites comparisons with sci-fantasy classics like Frank Herbert’s Dune.

   Lady Felicia is in fact very much like Herbert’s “Reverend Mother,” the Bene Gesserit witch who is the puppet-mistress of all that happens in that book and beyond.  Felicia cares for Darel but it’s clear that the fate of her house and the rest of her blood-siblings is far more important to her than one young empath.  Or is it?  The beauty of this somewhat open-ended novel is that we really don’t know what’s going on behind the curtain any more than Darel does.

   Twilight Forever Rising is a book filled with dark mystery and blood magic, the satisfying beginning to a paranormal saga that will play out over the course of several more novels to come.  It will be well worth the wait.

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