Author: Christian Baines
Publisher: Glass House Books
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
From the Publisher:
Reylan is everything a Sydney vampire aspires to be: wealthy, handsome and independent, carefully feeding off companions plucked from the gay bars of Oxford Street.
When one of those companions is killed by Jorgas, a hot-headed young werewolf prowling his streets, Reylan reluctantly puts his cherished lifestyle of blood and boys on hold to help a mysterious alliance of supernatural beings track down the beast. It can’t be that hard… not when Jorgas keeps coming after him.
But there’s more to this werewolf than a body count and a bad attitude. As their relationship grows deeper and more twisted, Reylan tastes Jorgas’ blood, reawakening desires the vampire had thought long dead. And what evolves between them may be far more dangerous than some rival predator in the dark…
Pretty damn good for a first novel.
I love to read explorations of the vampire genre, and in The Beast Without Christian Baines not only takes us to his native Australia, but presents us with Reylan, a two-hundred year old vampire in whom various pieces of paranormal lore merge and mix into an interesting modern product. Reylan looks at the world with a jaded “been there done that” attitude. He’s off-putting at first, comfortable behind this arrogant façade, sneering at a world of puny mortals in which he is the top of the food chain, sure of his own power.
This was an uncomfortable read for me, which is less a criticism than a comment. There is sexual fluidity and moral ambiguity, both of which make me squidgy; yet Baines handles these complexities with clarity and thought-provoking nuance. As in the world of Anne Rice’s vampires (the mother of the modern vampire) Reylan acknowledges the inevitability of a vampire killing, but only by accident, only as a weakness, a lack of control. He seems heartless and cold, and yet demonstrates emotional depths and a very strong moral compass. He is a fascinating character, not unlike Rice’s iconic Lestat, but somehow more appealing to me, more human.
In Reylan’s Australian world we have two kinds of predatory paranormals—werewolves and vampires, who refer to themselves as flesh masters and blood shades. They are born through genetic mutation, which gives them a sort of X-men aspect. Anyone could be one, if the recessive gene surfaces, and the transformation happens at puberty (well, of course it does). This sort of change is not publicly acknowledged or embraced, and thus adolescents who become different are given no guidance, left alone and frightened. Which makes them dangerous.
See the parallel?
I had to suspend a little disbelief to accept that, after decades in Sydney, Reylan is surprised to learn that there is a place right in the best part of town, run by a human ex-nun (of all things!) that studies and helps supernaturals. He discovers this through his longtime straight vampire friend Ross, after getting entangled with a violent young werewolf named Jorgas.
Baines throws a great deal of mythology and supernatural world-building at us, and he does so with remarkable dexterity in a not-very-long book. I was interested in the character of Reylan, in his place among the other denizens of his world, and his evolving relationship with the angry teenage Jorgas (sort of a werewolf Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye). Baines picks and chooses the aspects of vampire and werewolf lore to use, and does it believably and consistently.
The denouement of the novel is somewhat abrupt, leaving us with too many questions in what seems to be a near-cliff-hanger (but which, as I think about it, isn’t really). I wanted more, I wanted the story to keep going, and felt frustrated that Baines decided to stop it there. Yet, there is a tidiness in the way things wrap up that was nicely crafted, maintaining Reylan’s detached irony—now much more layered and infused with something akin to love—right to the end.
Does this mean there’s to be a sequel? I surely hope so. These are people I want to get to know.
I would like to thank Glass House Books for providing me with the eRC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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