Daughter of the Night

Rating: 
4
Daughter of the Night
Review by The Mad Bibliographer, submitted on 9-Oct-2001

Adapted from "Vampires in Print" in The Vampire's Crypt #7 (Spring 1993).

Review by Cathy Krusberg

Elaine Bergstrom. Daughter of the Night (Jove, 1992).

Daughter of the Night is Elaine Bergstrom's fourth book about the Austra family, those immortal beings who feed on blood and emotion. If you've read Bergstrom's prior three Austra books (_Shattered Glass, Blood Alone, Blood Rites_), you'll remember some of the characters: Charles and Stephen (here Steffen) and the Old One, Francis. Here we get to know two more members of this family that is more than a family: Matthew, Charles's son; and Catherine, wild even by Austra standards, headstrong in a clan where discipline is perforce a way of life.

But the Austra clan is only half of the book's focus. Intertwining her life with the clan is Elizabeth Bathori, born of a noble house in sixteenth century Hungary. Her course in life was set long before her birth, when an Austra, in careless passion, fathered a child on a woman of the Bathori line. Her heritage is made manifest the day she bites her wet nurse Marijo and draws blood. Marijo is beaten for slapping Elizabeth and, with Marijo thus reminded of her place, a rift grows between them.

Marijo attempts to frighten the willful Elizabeth with tales the Kisasszony_--the Fair Lady who carries off children who wish for more than they are given. But she has underestimated her young ward: Elizabeth is in fact fascinated. And a few years later, when her family visits the Bathori family's Dejo estate, near what is said to be the Fair Lady's domain, Elizabeth insists on seeking out the object of her fascination. Marijo takes Elizabeth riding in search of the Kisasszony because there is no refusing the child, not because she thinks such a thing could exist.

Marijo is wrong. There is truth to the stories, one of those truths that is stranger. Years previously Catherine Austra finally overstepped her bounds, attacking another family member--an unthinkable act among the Austras. For this, the Old One banished her from the Austra keep, their ancestral home, and forbade all members of the clan to shelter her. Catherine has made a home for herself in the forest--a home and a name. The Bihor hills of Borsa are known to harbor a beautiful creature who steals children and more; anyone who must travel through there would do well to carry a gift to placate a being who cannot be killed.

Yes, the Fair Lady is real, and Elizabeth is altogether a novelty in her experience. The young countess actually seeks her out; not only does she not fear the Fair Lady, she treats this beautiful creature as Catherine knows she was meant to be treated, introducing herself with a curtsy. Elizabeth willingly offers her blood and opens herself to the powerful mind-bond an Austra can place upon even a resisting human. In fact, she offers more. Marijo is only the first servant to accompany the little countess into the forest and not return. Servants can be replaced, after all. Catherine is charmed at the girl's utter ruthlessness, and the two become fast friends.

Elizabeth's family does not always stay at the Dejo estate, and Elizabeth cannot always visit her strange friend in the little house full of beautiful, stolen treasures. But neither forgets the other, and Elizabeth sees that Catherine is present at her arranged marriage to Ferenc Nadasdy. In fact, Elizabeth intends Catherine to be on hand to end it that very night, so Elizabeth can inherit her husband's estate and have freedom to live her own life in the company of her strange, wild friend. Elizabeth's mother Anna, however, knows the stories about the family's past; she more than suspects their odd guest's true nature and begs that her daughter be granted forgetfulness of superhuman pleasures and a chance at a normal life. Catherine--for whatever motive--grants what measure of it she can; but the fact is, Elizabeth had a taste for blood and pain even before she met the Kisasszony.

After thirty years of marriage Ferenc Nadasdy dies, and Elizabeth resumes her interrupted career of cruelty and bloodshed. The little hut where she and the Fair Lady had so many long conversations, where she watched victim after victim tormented and drained, is long-deserted. But Elizabeth remembers her friend's stories of her family keep and removes to her own castle in the White Carpathians, where she and her close servant Ayn can inflict pain and death as Catherine did.

The other main strand of Daughter of the Night concerns the few humans who live among the Austras, those few who know the Austra secrets in an age when it is all too easy to believe in demons, when suspected witches die horrible deaths as a matter of course. Young Jacques loses his family in a plague and becomes the friend that young Matthew Austra so desperately needs--Matthew, truly a stranger in a strange land, removed from Eastern Europe to AustraGlass in France so he can learn the family trade and the Austra way of surviving among humans. Jacques even adopts the Austra name (or perhaps it is vice versa?) and, in time, marries Monique Lupin, another who knows the Austra secrets. Their daughter, Margueri Austra, grows to be a remarkable creature, intelligent and well-travelled. Human though she is, something within her fascinates every Austra, draws male and female alike. But it is Charles, with his lust for darker things, that she chooses to satisfy her. They are lovers for a time, for too long, until Charles realizes that her passions have wakened the pain-craving beast within him. It is with the best of intentions that he leaves her, leaves her for other Austras to comfort.

Charles's ensuing travels are not merely for an escape from Margueri but to further the family business. He attends the dedication of the first Lutheran church in Bratislava, a church ornamented by AustraGlass windows. Here Countess Bathori sees him and sends a servant to hire him--not AustraGlass, *him*--to design windows for her chapel. Charles has heard rumors about the Countess: one set has it that she claims money from the throne, money she is unlikely ever to obtain. AustraGlass could use her patronage, but Charles is curious about the countess for reasons beyond the financial. He hires a servant, Anton Shiller, to investigate the Countess: ostensibly to see if she can pay for his work, really to learn what truth there is behind the other rumors--those of her atrocities.

Meanwhile, in a rare visit to Vienna, Elizabeth meets Margueri--Margueri who cannot be satisfied without the dark lover who has so studiously avoided her. When Charles's name is mentioned, nothing will do but that Margueri stay with Elizabeth at Cachtice castle and wait for her lover to come design the chapel windows. One look at Charles has told Elizabeth that he and Catherine are of the same blood. Margueri bears the Austra name and has been Charles's lover. That is enough. Elizabeth lays a trap for Charles, using Margueri--soon her prisoner--as bait. One way or another, Charles will bring Elizabeth what she wants: immortality and Catherine both. Elizabeth has the means for entrapping even an Austra and the ruthlessness to go through with it; indeed, a compulsion in her blood promises darker things still. (At the risk of ruining the tone of this whole review, I must suggest that a book focused on Charles Austra and Elizabeth Bathori can be expected to reinforce the definition of a sadist as a person who is kind to masochists.)

Like the other Austra books, this is a tale of many threads. Set against the backdrop of the rise of the Lutheran Church, with passion human and Austra both and coming-of-age, repeatedly it seems, for Charles's son Matthew. Most threads are of the Austras themselves: AustraGlass, the secrets they keep, the secrets they share each year at winter solstice; and finally, the secrets that not all Austras share, secrets that can keep even an Austra from being fully at one with the close-knit family.

I must not neglect to mention Bergstrom's sure touch with historical facts. She has done her homework; moreover, she has done a good job of weaving her novel into the relevant history as well as the world of the Austras shown in her previous three books. A word of advice, however: Daughter of the Night will be a little clearer if you have read the other Austra novels, preferably in the order written. Some things are spelled out in earlier books that are not in this one.

In my review of Bergstrom's last book, Blood Rites, I said that I found her work was becoming formulaic. In Daughter of the Night, I feel that I have been--perhaps justly-- reprimanded for that observation. Daughter abides by my "formula" [described in my review of Blood Rites_] no less than the previous three Austra books, but I found it more disquieting than I have any of the others, which is saying something. So let me pause to assure all of you, and Elaine Bergstrom in particular: I don't mind. I don't resent having been reminded with all the subtlety of a slap in the face that it's not the skeleton of a plot that counts, but how it is fleshed out, how it is clothed--and, above all, how it moves.

Fanged Films

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

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