For a guy who first made a name for himself defending Christianity against the infidel hoards of the Ottoman Empire, Vlad the Impaler's reputation has sure taken a beating. Sure, there was the whole stake thing, where he was supposed to have impaled hundreds of Turkish soldiers in the Transylvanian mountains while doing his bit for Christ, but the Church has always been forgiving when it comes to excess when dealing with those it considers its enemies. It wasn't until the late 19th century with the publication of Gothic novelist Bram Stoker's classic horror novel Dracula that the first stain appeared on Vlad's reputation, and since then it's been downhill fast.
Now I'm sure tales of vampires had been around for a long time before Mr. Stoker was inspired by the good Count's zealous behaviour to create Dracula, but it was his story that first introduced them to the mainstream and helped make them the popular culture icon that they've become today. Films, novels, comics, and television series have been devoted to their exploits, or their exploitation depending how you look at it. Unfortunately many writers have taken the romantic sexuality of their characters and turned it into violent pornography; using them as an excuse to glamourize rape and other non-consensual sexual acts.
Thankfully there are still some writers who understand the difference and are able to distinguish between their character's need to feed upon human blood for survival and other aspects of their life. In fact, the really good writers, as far as I'm concerned, make a concentrated effort to show how their character has no control over their need for blood, and that there is nothing sensual in the ripping open someone's throat in order to drain them to the last drop. While they may enthrall their victim prior to feeding on them, it's more by way of anaesthetizing them than anything sensual.
Judging by book one of her Eternal Vigilance series, From Deep Within The Earth, published by Immanion Press, one writer who looks to know how to write a great vampire story is Gabrielle Faust. In this, the first of a four-part series, plus a prequel, she sets the stage for the rest of the books in the series by establishing the major characters, the world they live in, and by offering a different perspective on immortality from that which is normally presented.
It seems that vampires, like their mortal counterparts, can wonder if there isn't more to existence than what's in front of them. Vampires may be immortal, but that doesn't mean they can't be killed, and what, some of them wonder, happens to us when we die. Is there an afterlife for those who are supposedly damned, or upon their deaths do they blink out of existence, snuffed out like the flame of a candle by a sudden gust of wind?
A few hundred years ago Tynan Llywelyn thought he had discovered an answer; something for vampires to believe in like mortals have their religions and gods. Yet his own tormented soul refused to accept what he had himself created and he walked away from it, abandoning those who had believed in him and his vision, and betraying their faith. Seeking oblivion, he cast a spell of eternal sleep upon himself and entombed himself miles below the earth's surface. So it comes as something of a surprise to him when he finds himself waking from a nightmare at the beginning of From Deep Within The Earth.
Unfortunately that's only the first of many shocks he's about to experience. In the hundred years that he had spent entombed, the world had been taken over by the Tyst Empire. After a series of brutal and bloody wars had decimated the population, the Tyst now rule with an iron fist. By denying the general population access to anything but the basic technology needed for survival, they have subjugated nearly every mortal on the planet. Only the Phuree, a rebel army that uses magic to combat the technology of the Tyst, remain as a viable force in opposition to the empire. Yet what hope do they even have of standing against the empire if its leaders fulfill their dream of obtaining immortality by allying themselves with the ancient vampire god – a god that most vampires themselves don't want to believe exists because of the evil he represents.
Vampires have always held themselves removed from the wars that have plagued mankind in the past, but now that the Tyst have found a way to threaten their existence they have been forced to enter into the fray on the side of Phuree. Yet there is understandable reluctance among the Council of Elders within the vampires to accept the Phuree prophesy that Tynan represents their one and best chance of winning this war and survival. How can they trust him when it was his betrayal that resulted in so many vampires losing their will to live?
Tynan no more wants to be cast in the role of saviour than those on the Council of Elders want him to be, but it seems like nobody has a choice in the matter. He's the only one who stands a chance of being able to overcome the Tyst defences and prevent their plans for obtaining immortality and freeing Victus the vampire god, from reaching fruition. The only trouble is that while the prophesy might say he's the one with the best chance of saving everybody, its a little unclear on the details of how he's supposed to go about doing it.
From Deep Within The Earth is completely different from any vampire novel that you've ever read before. There aren't any vampire hunters out to eliminate evil from the world, nor do we enter into a world of twisted, sadomasochistic sexuality that reeks of snuff films. Instead Ms. Faust has made the vampires we meet into complex and deeply troubled people. For the first time in history their numbers have dwindled drastically and their very survival as a species is threatened. Certainly they are proud and believe themselves superior to the mortals they are forced to ally with, but they also remain enough vestiges of their former humanity to know doubt, even if they can't bring themselves to show it.
It's that ability to feel, and his understanding and empathy of mortal emotions, that make other vampires judge Tynan as weak and flawed. It's something he should have outgrown after his first century of being turned, and he still suffers pangs of guilt for every human life he takes when the Thirst comes and he has to feed. Not only that, but he absorbs and retains, on a subconscious level, the memories and feelings of all those whose blood he has drained. Yet, it's that very characteristic that could save them all, if it doesn't drive him insane.
Not only does Ms. Faust have a great talent for creating characters, she shows great skill in bringing the reality of the world that the story takes place in to life. From the devastated city, the opulent luxury of an Elder's mansion, to the austerity of the primitive Phuree camp, the environment is so adeptly drawn that we can't help but be drawn in and feel like we are experiencing all that Tynan does, when he does. Even more impressive is the fact that we are seeing the world from the perspective of a vampire, not a human, and it is every bit as believable as if it were a human's eyes we were seeing through.
Gabrielle Faust has a remarkable imagination, and the talent to make that vision live on the pages of From Deep Within The Earth. If the balance of the Eternal Vigilance series is able to maintain the standard set by its first book, we are in for a wonderful ride. Be prepared to experience the life of a vampire as you've never experienced it before, but most of all, be prepared to believe that they exist.