Victorian Age Vampire: A Morbid Initiation
Victorian Age Vampire: A Morbid Initiation Capsule Review by Ralph Dula on 29/10/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
While I did not find that it "sent shivers down my spine," as claimed by one reader on the back cover, I found A Morbid Initiation a worthwhile read & a novel that I'll be keeping in my collection for some time to come.
Product: Victorian Age Vampire: A Morbid Initiation
Author: Philippe Boulle
Company/Publisher: White Wolf
Line: Victorian Age Vampire
Page count: 284 (not counting ads and "About the Author" page)
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: yes
Capsule Review by Ralph Dula on 29/10/02
Genre tags: Historical Horror Conspiracy Vampire
A Morbid Initiation is the first book in a new trilogy which introduces the Victorian Age Vampire setting to White Wolf's novel lines. The author, Philippe Boulle, has done an exquisite job of writing a period story without falling into the cliches and stereotypes that so often occur in vampire fiction, aided in this by his making sure to give the mortal world as big a part in the story as the society of the undead, if not bigger.
The focus of the story is on one Regina Blake, an English girl "not yet eighteen," as we're told several times in the story, who lived in Egypt with her parents when her father was stationed there, only to return with her family to England after her mother Emma's dark heritage leads to a disturbing incident in Cairo. A little over a year later Emma dies, and oddities about her demise and related events make Regina resolute in finding out the truth about what is really going on, leading her into the nighttime world of the Kindred.
It's hard for me to go into detail about the book without spoiling the story, something I'm reluctant to do. Boulle has weaved an excellent tale in this book, achieving a level of quality that I rarely find in a novel from White Wolf, and I don't wish to reveal any of the surprises that lurk within the book's pages.
One of the best features of the book is that the author has managed to give each character their own distinctive personality, having goals and desires that are not blatantly displayed at all times. As the book progresses several of the characters are revealed to be far more than they first appeared, usually with disturbing consequences. Unlike some authors, Boulle does not pull these revelations out of the blue, instead having reasons for each character's behavior that are consistent with what has been shown earlier in the novel. There are no deux ex machina, where characters suddenly have allies or information that save them from their own stupidity, nor at any time does the reader feel his intelligence insulted by the author's work. There is one point, however, where the set-up for a character's betrayal of Regina late in the book seems not to make much sense. The individual who gains control of Regina's ally seems to use a very odd method of doing so, when I could think of many other, WoD-appropriate ways for her to take control of the character. Hopefully this will be explained in a later volume in the trilogy, as the event and the results of it are not followed up on in this book.
(On a side note, there's a wonderful bit about a mortal who becomes involved in the world of the undead, who believes in leaving no stone unturned---and no form of torture unused---once he's made up his mind to involve himself with bloodsuckers. Though his career as a hunter is only slightly detailed in this volume, it appears he'll be appearing in later volumes, and might make the series worthwhile for fans of the Hunter line or those who enjoy normal humans hunting the undead in the WoD.)
Boulle has also managed to keep the actions of the characters and the tone of his writing consistent with the Victorian era in which it is set. The only time the story slips out of its period tone is in the prologue, which has a bit of a 1920s pulp flavor to it, and some of the sexual escapades, the descriptions of which seemed a bit more graphic than how a story written in the Victorian-era might have portrayed it (at least compared to stories from that era I have read), but thankfully still far more subdued than is usually found in modern-day fiction. I have to admit that the way the tone of the era is accurately presented in the book brought a smile to my face on several occasions, a rare occurrence indeed when I read any novel.
Also worthy of praise is the way the aura of mystery is kept throughout the book. There are several bits that a fan of the World of Darkness will know the answer to instantly, and may get a bit miffed that it is taking so long for Regina to put two and two together, but to a person unfamiliar to the WoD they will be mysteries that they will enjoy as they are revealed throughout the book. Additionally, there are several mysteries related to the WoD's mythos that even long-time fans may have trouble guessing the answer to; I thought I had one of them figured out within the first few pages of the book, only to be cursing myself that I hadn't picked up on the obvious clues when the truth was revealed.
Those who are faithful fans of the Vampire line will also enjoy the occasional cameo of long-established Kindred. Their appearances are amusing, never devolve into the "we're here just to boost sales" side of guest-starring characters, and the story doesn't suffer if you have no idea who they are.
The novel also manages to keep true to the game line it is based on almost 100%, with only one or two deviations that can be easily explained and/or ignored. Given the way some authors see fit to contradict what has been established in the game lines their work is based on, I enjoyed that fact immensely. There is one point in the novel which may confuse those not familiar with the WoD, as a character's blood bond (though such a thing is never mentioned in the book, or even hinted at) seems to make her more than willing to casually accept that she's encountered the man who nearly killed her and had his way with her in a way that some may see as rape, without a single comment or worry.
Even if you are not a fan of the Victorian era, it would be worth reading this book, as the depiction of how Regina becomes involved in Kindred society is an excellent example of how such an introduction to the world of the bloodsuckers would progress, with bits and pieces being released over time and with Regina making mistakes based on her observations, just as it should be. That said, it was annoying toward the end of the book, as Regina's "observations" seemed less her putting together the facts before her, and more like she was having Perfectly Ordinary Psychic Visions, as Frank Black of the TV show Millennium had a habit of doing.
After finishing this novel I'm still trying to figure out why so many vampires (and not just in White Wolf releases) have an overpowering urge to feed on relatives, as this novel continues the trend. Perhaps it's part of the same cosmic mystery that forces most modern-day horror stories to have the protagonists stop at a Denny's. Oh, well...
All in all I heartedly recommend this book to any fan of the World of Darkness whose interest lies in either the Kindred or the mortals whose lives they involve themselves in.