It's been at least a decade since I was wrapped up in a novel about vampires. Anne Rice really set the bar high with her series of novels in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, about the vampires Lestat and Louis and their exploration of the past and present of the vampire community across the world. I feel that Skarlet is flirting with that bar a bit, which is great.
In Skarlet we are introduced to a set of characters inhabiting the modern world. But where the vampires were the main storytellers of Rice's vampire series, Emson uses mortals as reluctant heroes working to save humanity from creatures brought back to life after being vanquished during classical times. The primary character is Jake Lawton, unfairly drummed out of the British military after being caught on film supposedly killing an unarmed civilian in Iraq. Since Jake came back from Iraq, he's had a rough time. He found work as a bouncer at a local dance club called "Religion," and unwittingly was drawn into a horror everyone thought was fiction. After all, who believes in vampires in modern day London?
Not only does the novel have a set of characters who have more depth than many of the fictional characters, but Emson weaves a compelling story across multiple times and places, from Alexander the Great conquering Babylon to Iraq when the Ottomans ousted the British in 1920 to the most recent war in Iraq started by the United States in 2003. And to somehow take these disparate locations and tie them together with modern London (with its pockets of corruption, drug use, and violence that seems to pervade most cities large and small to some degree) without skipping a beat was quite entertaining.
For those evildoers seeking a return of older dark forces to the world, the time was right to raise the spectre of our nightmares. For Jake and his few allies (a reporter who helped in his being kicked out of the military, a drug dealer, and a member of an anthropology department at a British university), danger in one form or another lurks around every corner – from corrupt police and reporters spreading the terror of the truth, to the actual vampires stalking the streets and killing or kidnapping people left and right.
Skarlet has a very British feel to it, which is quite different from Anne Rice's primarily American settings and influence. Words and phrases, even swear words and curses, were interesting to put into American terms.
In the book, Emson used short chapters to his advantage. I found it a nice change of pace to quickly go from scene to scene. As such, I can see this novel being made into a television or movie script very easily. It might come across as a more adult version of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, but it would definitely be entertaining.
Probably the only bad thing I noticed was what I perceived as a rather large number of typos in the second half of the book. Though minor, they took me out of the moment from time to time.
All in all, I really enjoyed Skarlet and look forward to the next book in the trilogy, Krimson. There's also a small preview at the back of Skarlet of another of Emson's books called Maneater, which hinted to me of a werewolf-like setting. I can't help but think of the setting for a series of roleplaying games from White Wolf collectively known as the "World of Darkness," which mixed magic, vampires, werewolves, mummies, ghosts, and faeries in a world of magic just outside what normal people see… It would be interesting to see if Emson began to cross concepts or events from one setting into another.
If you like supernatural fiction or vampire novels, I highly recommend that you take a chance on Skarlet at your local bookstore or find it online. I know I'll be in line to pick up Krimson when it's available!