Clan Novel: Tremere
Clan Novel: Tremere Playtest Review by Michael G. Williams on 17/03/01
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
Tremere is a fine addition to the series, well-worth reading, and a great way to get ready for Nosferatu.
Product: Clan Novel: Tremere
Author: Eric Griffin
Company/Publisher: White Wolf
Line: Vampire: the Masquerade
Page count: 283
Year published: 2000
Playtest Review by Michael G. Williams on 17/03/01
Genre tags: Fantasy Modern day Historical Horror Conspiracy Vampire Gothic Diceless Other
Clan Novel: Tremere is the 12th in the thirteen-novel series introduced by White Wolf for the Vampire: the Masquerade line in 1999. Now, two years later, the series is at an end, full of ups and, frankly, some hefty downs.
Eric Griffin, author of Tremere, also penned the second in the series, Tzimisce, which I more or less trashed when I reviewed it here. While his style of writing was certainly enjoyable, the subject matter itself was absurd and lackluster. His return to the series with Tremere, however, is both lyrically beautiful and deeply satisfying.
As with previous novels, I'll be discussing this with specific regard to the following aspects:
One thing about which I could not complain with Tzimisce was its tone. Griffin displayed a gift for setting a proper V:tM stage and scene. The same is even more true in Tremere. The Tremere are, of course, the clan of wizards, witches and warlocks, who stole vampirism from another clan hundreds of years ago, wiping it out and establishing themselves as the acknowledged masters of Thaumaturgy, the art of blood magic. With their built-in intrigues and their strict adherence to heirarchy, the Tremere are perfect villains; they fairly reek of power-lust and false smiles, short alliances and quick betrayals.
What could be better, then, than to set their novel in a Tremere chantry, one of the group homes for the clan, in which siblinghood in blood should reign supreme, and let the action revolve around a murder that happens within these bonds of family?
I'm using awfully florid prose to describe this, but there's just something about the Tremere that demands it. I don't know, maybe I'm a cheeseball, but there's something tremendously appealing and frighteningly romantic about the thought of Tremere being such suave businesspeople in their outer dealings and such back-stabbing bastards in private, complete with black cloaks and pentagrams of blood on their floors and such a casual approach to dark magic they perform together. The Tremere make for a great soap opera, and it's this sort of high gothic intrigue that Griffin plays on to very pleasant effect in this novel.
From the congenial, jeans-and-sweats-and-beer poetry readings the Chantry hosts on the campus where it resides, to the formality of intra-clan communications, to the thinly veiled rivalries that lie underneath every conversation, Griffin does a great job of providing us with a top-to-bottom view of the clan. Not only complete, it's fun, and it remains believably complex while staying accessible. He doesn't go over the top in trying to show us everything about the clan, but we've definitely gotten a good look at it by the end.
I'm only going to focus on three characters in this discussion, because they're such opposites from one another yet Griffin does a good job of using them to show us the gamut of Clan Tremere's ranks.
First, there's Talbott. He's old, aged into his late years, and a ghoul in the Chantry of the Five Burroughs in New York. Normally, one thinks of ghouls as the lowliest of lows, and they are -- resting just barely above mortal victims, or at best as useful tools. Talbott, however, is an interesting character: genial, warm towards strangers, knowledgeable of his place in the house, an avid story teller and entertainer. It's not that he sees a lot of action, so much as it's interesting he's in the novel at all. Griffin took pains to show us every aspect of the clan by showing us its ghouls. Also, it's fascinating to know that Talbott knows so much of his Regent's personal history. It makes one pause and wonder what's unsaid about their relationship, how far back they go, where she acquired him and what would make her confide her mortal past in him. It's not even that he's particularly well-developed, although he does far exceed the usual thoughtless assumption that ghouls are some sort of mindless robots of flesh, it's just fascinating to see him at all.
Second, Nickolai, a Tremere antitribu on the run from the events of Mexico City which apparently destroyed the rest of his antitribu line, House Goratrix. As presumably the sole surviving Tremere anti, Nickolai is a member of the Sabbat -- who take their supposed siblinghood even more seriously than House Tremere -- and who's found himself alone and on the run for the first time. Struggling to rise above the paranoid fears of the Beast, he's in the process of coming around to something resembling sentience when we see him in this novel, and we get to hear the story of how he escaped, how he realized his escape was doomed, and what he's doing about it. Also, via Nickolai, we get some very interesting suggestions as to the true nature of Leopold and his relationship to the Eye of Hazimel. Good stuff, all around, without weighing down the novel with a balancing act between metaplot and the story of this one novel itself, which I think is what happened in much of Tzimisce's ruin.
The real character of the novel, though, is Aisling Sturbridge. Regent of the Chantry of the Five Burroughs, in New York City, she is undoubtedly a woman of tremendous personal power, both political, charismatic and magical. However, rather than have her be nothing more than a magical tank in a skirt (I'm sorry, I can't resist the occasional Tzimisce dig), Griffin shows us every possible angle of Aisling over the course of this book, and in so doing, shows us Clan Tremere itself in three vibrant dimensions. Aisling is everything one could hope or fear: vengeful, human, saddened by her past, willing to fight and kill for her present, loyal to her clan but also concerned for the well-being and advancement of those in her charge. At one point or another, Aisling shows us everything that's ever been said -- good and bad -- about Clan Tremere in any book. She'll steal time and power for herself if need be, but she'll sacrifice it for the good of her clan, as well. She's a powerful, but fair and sometimes even lenient leader, but she maintains strict order or else. She's even good at the politics game, knowing how to keep her status within the clan but also how to play herself and her clan off the preconceptions and prejudices of others, such as the Toreador who visits her periodically during the course of the story. Ultimately, Aisling is one of the most interesting and most 3-D of the main characters in this series -- far more so than the wildly insane and thus utterly incomprehensible Sacha Vykos of Tzimisce. I think this is the triumph of the novel, that Griffin does such a wonderful job presenting Aisling and using Aisling to frame every other aspect of the book.
I really don't want to say much here, as I'm afraid I'll blurt out spoilers. Suffice to say, the war with the Sabbat and the Eye of Hazimel are both addressed here, but much like the best moments of those plotlines' mentions in Setite, they're integrated well with the overall story and feel far more natural than other novels have, on occasion, with their annoyingly jarring transitions.
An aspect of the plotting of this novel, though, is well worth discussion. Griffin himself is Irish (if not, he's the most Eirephilic person of whom I've ever heard), and his plotting for this novel follows the traditional hearth-tales style in a very important way: the concept of the story within a story. Using this sort of "capsuling" approach to story design, Griffin moves deftly down the stories of this novel without requiring major sanity-checks along the way. Like a directory-tree in DOS or Unix, the stories are nested one within another, and he uses this to great effect. I had no trouble maintaining the focus of my attention on this novel, despite being a near poster-child for ADD, because much of it was broken up into this encapsulated approach. For example, the story of the Devil is couched in a story about how Aisling's history is known by Talbott and Eva wants to know it, which is couched in the overall story of Aisling's most tumultuous month as Regent, which is couched in the overall Clan Novel storyline. The story of what's been happening to Leopold is, itself, encapsulated both in the story of what happens to Foley, which is itself a part of the story of Aisling's most turbulent month, and in the story of Nickolai, which is implicitly encapsulated in the whole Year of Revelations. It's an interesting approach, and one that works to great effect here. It's a stylistic comment more than anything, I know, but I like it. And it beats me just sitting here telling you what happens, right?
That said, though, the ending is probably one of the creepiest moments I've read on the typeset page in some time. It's not as gut-wrenchingly, wonderfully terrible to read as Hesha's utter corruption in Setite, but it's good stuff. Very good stuff.
Also, it continues the pleasant change early in the series, when clan novels actually started being about the clans in question. If you read this book looking for a portrait of the Tremere, you won't be disappointed.
What it All Means
Again, I can't say much here without giving the rest away, though if you read the game supplements that came out in 2000, you already know the answers to much of what happens at the conclusion of this series. Suffice to say, it adds some, without stealing the thunder of the final novel, Nosferatu.