Wednesday, 25 August 2010
‘The Girls with Games of Blood’ – Alex Bledsoe (Tor)
I’ll be the first to admit that I get stuck in a rut with my favourite writers. If Author A is consistently producing work that I enjoy then I don’t want him to try something different, why would I? It’s selfish but there you go. If I see a writer treading a different path, to the one that I’m used to, then I want to grab them by the scruff of the neck and send them back down the right path instead!
I’m more than happy to be proved wrong though if I get a good read out of the deal. That’s what I got when Tad Williams made the jump from fantasy to sci-fi (for example) so I’m usually a little more cool about things when I see an author making that leap between genres.
It still leaves me feeling a little uneasy though and that was the case when I saw that Alex Bledsoe had written a nineteen seventies vampire story. I could quite happily read his adventures of Eddie LaCrosse all day and would have quite happily read more of the same. I got a vampire story instead though and my fear of change had me wondering what I was letting myself in for.
As it happens, what I was letting myself in for was perhaps the best vampire novel I’m likely to read this year...
I had, of course, forgotten that Bledsoe is the author of ‘Blood Groove’ where a European vampire from the early nineteen hundreds awakes to find himself in nineteen seventies America and all the dangers that this brings. ‘The Girls with Games of Blood’ can be read on its own though, I haven’t read ‘Blood Groove’ and I didn’t encounter any problems with continuity. In ‘The Girls’, one Rudolfo Vladimir Zginski has his eye on the ultimate expression of the American Dream, a 1973 Mach 1 Ford Mustang. Unfortunately so does the local redneck ex-sheriff and this confrontation can only end in one way...
What’s more dangerous though are the games being played by two vampire sisters, games of blood that have been played for over a hundred years now. These games threaten not only Rudolfo but the modern day vampires that he has adopted as his own. When games like this are played, who will be left standing once the music stops...?
If you were to ask me what my favourite vampire novel is I’d say Robert McCammon’s ‘They Thirst’ straight away; you should check it out (it’s very good indeed...) ‘The Girls with Games of Blood’ runs it very close though and I’ve only read it the once...
‘The Girls with Games of Blood’ is a soulful tale of vampires who don’t have souls. Or do they? Bledsoe has his characters conflicted between what they are and the emotions they suddenly start feeling. This is no standard urban fantasy fare though; Bledsoe taps right into the animal nature of each vampire and shows his readers how the actions of Rudolfo (and others) are motivated by the basest urge of all. A vampire’s life is all about surviving against the odds and Bledsoe spares no expense in showing his reader just what this means. There might be room for the odd emotion or two but they never once get in the way of the story itself, something that never fails to annoy me about other urban fantasy novels... The gradual humanisation of Rudolfo in particular made for a gripping read as far as I was concerned as Bledsoe introduced a note of uncertainty meaning that things could go either way for Rudolfo and his relationships. Ultimately, conclusions were perhaps a little too predictable (although this could also be down to superb characterisation pointing the way a little too clearly) but the time spent getting there was time well spent. I’ll admit that the introduction of a ‘deus ex machina’ worried me for a while but the spin Bledsoe gave that had to be seen to be believed!
The games played between Patience and Prudence Bolade form the backbone of the novel, even when you don’t think this is the case. Bledsoe ties everything together so neatly that you won’t even realise how well it all fits. A long and well played game is always good to follow and this is definitely the case here, especially when I saw that the game was being played for reasons different to those that I had been led to believe. Moments of vicious release nestle nicely in between machinations that you are only likely to find between siblings. I had to know how this one played out.
I was only four by the end of the nineteen seventies and I certainly never grew up in Memphis! Bearing this in mind I can’t really comment on the accuracy of the picture that Bledsoe paints (apart from a few ‘period’ songs that seem to do the trick) but what I can say though is that the oppressive and brooding atmosphere, and not just the heat of the Deep South either, is done almost perfectly. I couldn’t get a sense of ‘when’ I was in the book but I did get a very tasty slice of ‘where’. If Rudolfo returns in another book then I will be back to hopefully sample more of the same.
The Deep South of the mid seventies was racist and Bledsoe doesn’t shy away from what could potentially be a tricky subject to cover in any book. To his credit, the racist scenes in the book aren’t sensationalised but rather used to develop a particular character and add a little more depth to his life as a vampire; something that is done very well. It can make for uncomfortable reading but it is there for a real purpose.
‘The Girls with Games of Blood’ is what ‘True Blood’ can only aspire to be, a vampire romance that leaves you in no doubt that you’ve been bitten. If there are more these to come then you’ll get no more uneasiness from me! Highly recommended.
Nine and a Half out of Ten