Vampire Vow

Vampire Vow
Review by The Mad Bibliographer, submitted on 13-Feb-2002

A version of this review will appear in The Vampire's Crypt 25 (Spring 2002). The Vampire's Crypt web site is:

Michael Shiefelbein. Vampire Vow. Los Angeles: Alyson Books, 2001. TPB ISBN 1-55583-586-4; $12.95.

Victor Decimus, an up-and-coming lieutenant serving under Pilate in Judea, makes a close companion of a young Jew whom the world eventually comes to call Jesus of Nazareth. Their mutual lust is as strong as their mutual friendship, but the man that Victor knows as Joshu refuses to succumb to it: "I must give myself to no earthly man, only to my Father in heaven, for whose coming kingdom I must prepare."

Victor is not accustomed to taking no for an answer, and not particularly good at it, either: his frustration drives him to acts of violence beyond even what Roman soldiers can get away with. Only the seer Tiresia holds out hope for him, a promise of power even over Joshu. A night of blood drinking and sex does transform Victor into a powerful, if night-bound, being, but harassing Joshu nearly to the point of insanity still doesn't get him what he wants, and Jesus' resurrection puts him forever beyond Victor's bodily reach. Furious, Victor swears eternal vengeance against the god of light who has won the loyalty of the man he wants.

Victor eventually makes good his vow through monastery hopping: over the centuries, abbey after abbey temporarily harbors a monster and at last falls to its -- his -- lust for blood and death. For Victor, the real triumph is in stealing souls rather than lives -- taking advantage of pietistic young males wrestling with their carnal desires. In the late twentieth century his quest brings him to America: posing as the sole survivor of an order in England, Victor is accepted into the monastery of St. Thomas in rural Tennessee, where he pleads an ailment that makes him unable to tolerate sunlight. The underground cell that he is assigned is conveniently close to the crypt, where he covertly appropriates the supposed last resting place of the latest arrival so he can sleep in a coffin by day.

Through centuries of research in monastery libraries, Victor has pieced together the history and nature of his kind. Vampires cannot live together on earth; the vampire's path is rather to exist alone on the mortal plane until he attains the spiritual Kingdom of Darkness by transforming another, who can in turn achieve that state in the same way. So Victor's second goal is to find a companion to transform, whose eventual transfiguration he will await in the vampires' next world. St. Thomas's groundskeeper, Brother Michael, bids fair to become just that companion. Not only can Michael discuss contents of the occult and mystical volumes in the abbey's library, he has strange abilities of his own: ecstatic epileptic-like seizures during which Victor can see Joshu but not come near, even as Michael achieves a physical as well as spiritual union that is forever beyond Victor's reach. Michael even accepts Victor's strange nature as it is gradually revealed to him. In Michael's affection and acceptance Victor has found hope for an end of the round of destruction and flight that now makes up his existence. But Victor's need for blood, and his lust to obtain it through brutal killings, make it dangerous for him to stay at the monastery. Can he persuade Michael to let him begin the process of transformation before the authorities catch up?

Vampire Vow pulls no punches regarding the sex or the violence in Victor's existence. The deaths in which he takes so much pleasure are related in truly gory detail, and there's no sparing of explicitness in his sexual encounters with Michael. Yet amid the repetitions of what Victor knows full well to be sins according to Christian doctrine, the message of salvation is also unfailingly repeated. Even as Victor cannot forget Joshu nor, in his way, cease to persecute him, so long as Victor is on earth Joshu cannot desert him either. In visions and dreams he continues to offer hope for Victor's entry into the Kingdom of Light. Victor, in return, continues on his dark path: cruelty and killing, the campaign against Joshu's followers, the search for a companion who will ultimately follow him into the Kingdom of Darkness.

Although Vampire Vow is more than fangs ripping flesh and skin slapping skin, it has a dryness and bleakness that at times make it seem more of an intellectual exercise than, well, a novel. Victor's pain and loneliness make him easy to sympathize with, but his cynicism and drive for control make him difficult to care about. Of course, that may be the point: even though his nature keeps readers at arm's length, Joshu still cares for him and holds out hope. And the book is still at times compelling: the exotic flavor of first-century Jerusalem, young Brother Luke's doomed infatuation with a creature of darkness, Victor's encounters with Michael's supernatural connections -- the pages turn with no effort through such passages. But much of the novel seems designed to keep the reader at a distance, detached as Victor strives to be from the mass of living humanity.

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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