Oct 6, 2008

The Vampyre by Tom Holland

The premise of this book is a simple one: the poet Lord Byron is one of the undead. The fact that the title is the same as that of the famous Polidori story, then, is no coincidence. The Vampyre opens with a scene that takes place in contemporary London. Young Rebecca Carville is trying to convince a lawyer to let her have the key to the crypt of St Jude’s chapel. The lawyer, however, has instructions to only give the key to the heirs of one Lord Ruthven. What Rebecca is hoping to find is a surviving copy of Lord Byron’s famous memoirs. What she finds instead is a story beyond anything she could have imagined.

I love troubled, tortured, guilt-ridden, beautiful and fascinating vampires. They are my kind of vampires. And so this was the most satisfying vampire story I had read in a long, long time. I loved how the early section, about Byron’s stay at the castle of the man that eventually turns him into a vampire, mirrors Dracula. I loved how a later part of the book has echoes of Frankenstein – and of course, it takes place at around the time of its writing. But most of all, I loved the fact that The Vampyre reads a bit like early Anne Rice. I don't mean just the kind of vampire Byron is, but the setting, the voice, even the structure: a contemporary setting, an ordinary person "interviewing" a vampire, a flashback and a story being told in the first person.

But at the same time, The Vampyre is very much its own thing. Like Diane Setterfield, Tom Holland intelligently uses echoes of older stories to build a new one. And if Lord Byron the vampire is reminiscent of Lestat or Louis, well, they are called Byronic heroes for a reason.

The story told in The Vampyre works around the known facts of Byron’s lives to reveal a terrifying and fascinating reality behind them. I particularly liked the fact that each chapter is introduced by a quote by Byron or by one of those who knew him that seems to hint at a terrible hidden truth. For example:
If I could explain at length the real causes which have contributed to increase this perhaps natural temperament of mine, this Melancholy which hath made me a bye-word, nobody would wonder; but this is impossible without doing much mischief. I do not know what other men's lives have been, but I cannot conceive anything more strange than some of the earlier parts of mine. I have written my memoirs but, omitted all the really consequential and important parts, from deference to the dead, to the living, and to those who must be both.
Lord Byron, “Detached Thoughts”

And yes, we now know he is probably hinting at his bisexuality, but doesn’t that almost make you believe he was a vampire? Also, it was great how Byron’s voice in this novel is so reminiscent of the way he actually sounded in his letters, or at least in what I’ve read of them – lyrical and dramatic and sarcastic and full of dark humour.

Like I was saying, this fantastic story is well rooted in facts, and other than Byron himself we encounter historical characters like Lady Caroline Lamb, Claire Clairmont, Polidori, Hobhouse, and of course, Percy and Mary Shelley.

The Vampyre is dark, deliciously atmospheric and full of exotic and ancient locations. Byron’s travels take him to Greece, Albany and Turkey, and like Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, The Vampyre hints at a complex and ancient vampire mythology, involving the stories of Lilith and Cain and of the Greek god Hades.

And then there was the writing, which I found rich and evocative and wonderful. I know I keep repeating this, but the writing too reminded me of early Anne Rice:
There was a wild music in my veins singing of darkness and the pleasures of the night, which I knew marked me out as a thing apart. Across the waters of the Golden Horn, Constantinople was waiting – cruel, ancient, rich in forbidden delights. I haunted the narrow streets. The close air was spiced with blood.
I have another book on my RIP list (The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers) that covers similar ground – vampires and the Romantic poets. It'll be interesting to see how the two compare.

Also reviewed at:

Stella Matutina

(Let me know if you’ve also reviewed this book.)

21 comments:

  1. well it sure sounds like you enjoyed this one! :o)

    I hope your next read is just as good!.. it's so much fun when we really enjoy what we are reading!

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  2. Oh. Oh. Oh. I've got this one on my tbr mountain and had forgotten all about it! It sounds wonderful so I must dig it out and read it soon. Then I can come back and read your review properly. :-)

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  3. Great review Nymeth! I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I love vampires, werewolves, the whole shabang. This story sounds fascinating-I wouldn't mind a new vampire story, that's for sure. I love the quote that you left that is reminiscent of Anne Rice-I've read a few of hers and have a few on the shelves; I've always liked her. And let's not forget that cover-wowser! Haunting and dark and utterly fabulous.

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  4. Lord Byron as a vampire? This sounds like exactly my sort of book! I've got to get my hands on a copy.

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  5. Hi Nymeth! Love the review and how you connect it with other books like Dracula, Frankenstein, etc. I've always enjoyed reading your reviews. :D

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  6. You did it again, sigh. I'm in! :-)
    Great review - thanks!

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  7. Polidori actually had Lord Byron in mind when he wrote The Vampyre. As in! So I wouldn't be surprised with Holland's premise and the story altogether. Looks like a good read indeed.

    Which reminds me I need to review Polidori's story soon :P

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  8. Oh wow...I need to get this one! I love vampire stories and my love for them started with Anne Rice's books. So for you to make the comparison to her and Diane Setterfield makes me want to go out and get it now. Sounds really good!

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  9. Sounds like the perfect Halloween read. I especially like how you describe it as "dark, deliciously atmospheric and full of exotic and ancient locations"

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  10. My background in classic gothic literature is woefully lacking, but I do love me some early Anne Rice, and this sounds great. Am I going to be hopelessly lost, not having read Byron or any other of the authors you mention?

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  11. Very intriguing! And of course it's a vampire story! ;) I've been missing your posts, Nymeth! I hope you're doing well. :)

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  12. Reminiscent of early Anne Rice? I'm there! I loved her first books in the vampire series... I like vampire stories that are atmospheric and very big on character development. Don't just give me the stereotypes, you know. I'm putting this one on my wish list!

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  13. I've heard several stories where Lord Byron is a vampire but I don't know that much about him. Oh you have most certainly talked me into trying to get this one! I used to adore Anne Rice.

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  14. "But at the same time, The Vampyre is very much its own thing. Like Diane Setterfield, Tom Holland ntelligently uses echoes of older stories to build a new one."

    That alone makes me want to read this book. I love it when authors use other works and actually quotes, etc. to craft a story. When done well it adds a depth that the story would not have had otherwise.


    Wouldn't it be fascinating to discover that Lord Byron actually *thought* he was a vampire?!?!

    Oops, sorry, going off on a tangent. Another great, and tempting, review Nymeth!!!

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  15. You had me at Lord Byron and vampires! I'm only recently converted to the world of vampire novels, but with writing like this, I know I'll be hooked. Lovely review, thank you.

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  16. Deslily: After this I read Jamaica Inn which unfortunately was a bit of a let down :( But it was still a great book! The problem is that Rebecca set my expectations too high :P

    Cath, I can't wait to see how you like it :)

    Dar, thank you :) I love the show shabang too, lol. And yes, isn't the cover just gorgeous?

    xicanti: I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    Hi Alice, thank you! I thought that the "nods" to these classics made this book even more special.

    Darla: lol :P I hope you enjoy it!

    Lightheaded: I know! And so does Tom Holland :P He makes it all fit the story so brilliantly. I look forward to your review of the Polidori.

    Chris, I really think you'll enjoy it. It all started with Anne Rice for me too.

    Trish: Yes, it's perfect for Halloween. It's not exactly scare, but it has the exact right kind of atmosphere.

    Firefly: Not at all! Knowing some things about Byron's life will make you go "oh, he's using something that really happened, how cool", but the story still stands on its own perfectly if the reader doesn't know those things. And you definitely don't need to have read him or any of the others. I hope you enjoy this book if you decide to pick it up :)

    Melody: I am, thank you! I miss reading your posts too, but you couldn't have a better reason to be away, so it's all good :P

    Iliana: Yes, me too! I love complex characters who change through the story and this book certainly has them.

    Ladytink: If you could recommend some others I'd be very thankful! And me too...Anne Rice was my favourite author for many years.

    Carl: I love it too. It certainly adds another layer to the book. And lol, it actually would be! I hope you enjoy this one when you get to it.

    Mariel: It didn't take more than that to convince me to read this book either :P

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  17. this sounds really good, I always enjoy a good vampire novel.
    I like it when book chapters are introduced with quotes.

    And I always like the beautiful, troubled, guilt ridden vampires...like Louis in Anne Rice's 'Interview'.
    great review, of course now I want to read this one too.
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  18. I can't remember what exactly. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with Venice though.

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  19. Naida: I heart Louis too. Byron reminded me a bit of him at times, and at other times of Lestat. I think you'll enjoy this one!

    Ladytink, thank you anyway! I'll try to find out. There's just something about the idea of Byron being a vampire that feels so right.

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  20. Oh this does sound delicious! Love the cover too! You really are bad for my wishlist! ;)

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  21. I immediately thought of Colleen Gleason when I saw this title. She mentions it in the third book of her series.

    I will have to look for this one. It does sound intriguing.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.