The Wounded King is the final volume in the Victorian Age Vampire trilogy. Beginning with the quest of Regina Blake for her mother in the first book, the tale expanded to all those touched by the young Blakeís pursuit, both living and undead. In this book the newly-Embraced Regina and her sire still search for the formerís mother, even as those mortals connected to the Blake family pursue their various agendas and elements among the Tremere reach the finale of their generation-spanning experiments. While the book is far superior to a lot of what is on the shelves right now, Iím afraid that in some ways it doesnít match the quality of the previous two books.
Like the previous novels a great amount of research has gone into the book to get it historically accurate, and it shows. The author is also not afraid to go into detail when it comes to the fictional portions of the book, whether it is the genealogy of families, individual characters, or background information; like the previous novel, the book even manages to answer some mysteries originally brought up in the RPG line, which I found to be a pleasant surprise. Despite all the information presented, at no time does the book descend into boredom as facts are revealed, each revelation being both interesting and relevant to the book.
The behavior of the characters is consistent with their previous appearances, something that many authors seem to have trouble doing in series novels, retaining their interesting personalities even as newly introduced characters have their own charms. By the time the story ends (several years after the end of the Victorian Era, by the by) no loose ends are remaining, nor for that matter are many of the important personae. Given that the upcoming Time of Judgement is to put an end to the Victorian era line of Vampire as well as the modern-day setting, it was nice of the author not to leave any unresolved plot threads for the reader to nash his teeth over.
Perhaps the best part of the novel is the fact that in his writings Boulle is able to capture both the horror and remaining humanity in a vampire. From the way he describes Regina during one of her first awakenings after being Embraced,. to how a Kindredís regenerative powers feel when theyíre being used, the author never lets the reader forget that to be a vampire is to be a damned soul trapped in an animate corpse, rather than a normal person who gets kewl powerz in exchange for adding a little bit of blood into her diet. I hope that when White Wolf introduces whatever will replace the World of Darkness after the Time of Judgement they have Boulle write the descriptive fiction in the rulebooks for whatever monstrosities they allow for player characters.
On the flip side, Boulle never forgets that each vampire was once a human being, and does an excellent job of incorporating that fact into his writing. He has his undead protagonists engage in such mundane activities such as a study of botany or even simply playing cards. They do these things not because it is the sole obsession that keeps them going night after night, nor because it allows them to delude themselves into thinking they still number among the living; they do these things because they are fun, and nothing more. Such attention to minor detail added to the quality of the book, reminding the reader of the human origins of the monsters they read about.
Also worth mentioning are the few snippets of humor in the book. Such moments are well-placed, and do nothing to take away from the serious tone of the book. Perhaps the best moment is an all-too brief scene in which a vampire attempts to use a Discipline she does not possess, simply because she has seen other vampires do it.
One thing that probably wonít be a disappointment to most readers is that unlike the previous novels in the series this book is not written for newcomers to the World of Darkness. There are several instances in the book where those unfamiliar with the unique powers and abilities of White Wolfís vampires will be left in the dark about what is going on. A good example of this comes in a flashback in the beginning of the book. I had to reread it a few times before my knowledge of the Vampire RPG kicked in and I realized how the vampire had pulled off its deception with its powers. However, to those unfamiliar with the game it might seem odd that the charade worked, and may feel it to be a plot hole; even a later display in the book of the vampireís amazing illusionary powers didnít convince a person I showed the book to that the earlier portion was not a mistake on the authorís part. This is the worst offender of the bunch by far, but it does happen on several occasions, leaving readers unfamiliar with the RPG line to scratch their heads at what exactly is going on.
The conclusion of the story leaves something to be desired. I commented in my review of the first novel that the author managed to avoid any sort of deux ex machina in his tale, but Iím afraid that such is not the case here. While connecting to plot threads established earlier in the story, the final confrontation in the book has the feel of an RPG scenario where the PCs are forced to sit back and watch as the GMís pet NPC walks in and saves the day. Given that several of the characters who survive to witness the conflict have had a fair amount of coverage in the trilogy, I was disappointed to see their participation in the finale to be so minimal.
Also, there are a few sexual encounters in the book that seem both odd and a bit long, given the fact that those involved are undead creatures who are supposed to have lost their physical urges for sex. An argument could be made in one case that it was a new vampire still acting on memory or by rote of how things were done, but the other cases donít have that excuse.
In a similar vein, the novel has two instances of vileness involving the male reproductive organ. While the previous novel had two truly disturbing sequence involving male genitalia, the two cases in this book donít have the same spark. Indeed, I had to laugh at one of them, as it seemed a combination of a scene from the movie The Night Flyer and any number of porno movies Iíve had described to me by lonely middle-aged gamers.
My biggest problem with the book, looking over the notes I made as I read it, is the number of times I found myself writing down the word ďpredictable.Ē Iíve no problem with foreshadowing, and I enjoy the occasional moment where the reader knows something is to happen but the characters are blissfully unaware. However, on multiple occasions I found myself guessing what was going to happen, and as I read on I realized by the number of pages between my initial guess and the events actually occurring that such portions of the book were to have been an actual surprise or shock for the reader. Maybe Iíve just read too many vampire stories over the years, so Iím more aware of such things than the target reader for this book, but as I write this I can think of no time while reading the previous two novels in the trilogy that the word ďpredictableĒ came to mind, so perhaps thatís why it seems to gall me so much with this volume.
In the end I recommend this novel to anyone who has read the previous two novels in this series. Despite my complaints you will find the story resolved in a (for the most part)satisfactory and entertaining manner. Indeed, I feel the series as a whole is good enough that every member of my gaming group will be getting a set of the trilogy come the holidays.