REVIEW: Blood Memories by Barb Hendee
Dear Ms. Hendee,
While I haven’t read them, I’m more familiar with your traditional fantasy books co-written with your husband. I had no idea you were even working on an urban fantasy novel until I opened up a package Jane sent me and found this book’s cover staring up at me. I’ve said in the past that I’m growing weary of urban fantasy, and this one featured a vampire heroine to boot, but I was in a good mood and more willing to give it a try. Since I read the first chapter and found myself unable to stop until I reached the end, that turned out to be a good decision.
Eleisha is a nearly 200-year-old vampire. In this world, vampires have a gift, which is essentially a defining quality they had in life pushed to supernatural extremes. This gift can range from sexual magnetism, irresistible charm, to mindnumbing fear. Eleisha’s is helplessness. This doesn’t mean she can’t take care of herself. It means exactly the opposite actually. Instead, she brings out the protective instinct in everyone around her, making them want to come to her rescue. I thought this was a wonderful reversal from the typical kickbutt heroine we normally encounter in UF novels, and it was the perfect illustration that you don’t have to be able to take on ten opponents at the same time to be dangerous. Eleisha’s gift putting her gift into action is one of the more unnerving and disturbing things I’ve seen in fiction recently because I think we’ve all met someone who brings out those instincts in us. Now imagine if that person was a vampire who intended to make you dinner.
(un)Life’s going well for Eleisha until one day she receives a phone call from her friend and fellow vampire, Edward. Sounding ill and unstable, she immediately goes to his house and discovers he’s been eating dog corpses (vampires can’t consume food in this world because it’ll make them ill since their digestive system no longer works) and acting very bizarre. Eleisha is at a loss to help him and before she can stop him, he walks out into the sunlight. That’s bad enough. What makes matters worse is that he does so in front of three police officers who watch in disbelief as he bursts into flame. When you factor in the details that one of the officers is a telepath (vampires release all of their memories upon death, effectively sending a mental blast to anyone in the general vicinity and their vampire sires) and another is a psychometrist, Eleisha has a very big problem.
Eleisha flees Portland with the her aged, vampire companion, William, and seeks refuge with another vampire, Maggie. Unfortunately, the telepath and psychometrist follow her. What follows is a game of cat and mouse as Eleisha tries to elude one man who’s taken it upon himself to rid the world of vampires while trying to make the other understand what made her.
As I said earlier, Eleisha is not your standard UF heroine. She can’t fight. She’s not tough. Her entire gift depends on her looking fragile. I found that extremely refreshing. I also liked the fact that these vampires are not the brooding, angsting characters we so often find in UF novels. In fact, Eleisha is often very scornful:
Film portraits of some handsome romantic undead hero bemoaning the fact that he’ll never again see the sunrise have always made me gag. Edward and I used to go to the threater when we were bored and giggle during those silly scenes. We probably annoyed a lot of people. But after the first few adjustment years, I never missed the sun. My world is dark, and if I want light, I just stay home and run up the power bill. Why should anyone living an unnatural existence long for natural light? Ridiculous.
One of my major criticisms of vampires in fiction is that they don’t read like vampires. I realize there’s a fine line to tread between keeping a character sympathetic and making her unrelatable, but often times I feel like supposed vampire characters read just like humans who sometimes drink blood. Is that really believeable when some of these characters have lived for centuries? The vampires in in Blood Memories read like vampires, alien and detached from humanity. Perhaps not quite as foreign and eeries as the vampires of Joey E. Hill’s vampire erotica novels but these have the same sort of feel to them. I personally like that.
I also found Eleisha’s backstory very fresh, if sad and unfortunate. How many characters can you think of that are made into vampires in order to take care of a vampire suffering from Alzheimer’s? (Spoilers follow. Unfortunately, I’m having technical difficulties with the spoiler code. I apologize.) Eleisha was a servant to Lord William when they were both alive and human. But as he got older, he developed symptoms that we today associate with Alzheimer’s. When everyone withdrew from him in disgust, including his own wife, Eleisha became his companion and nursemaid. When William’s wife begs their son, Julian (who by that time was already a vampire) to make William into a vampire to heal him, he reluctantly agrees. Julian’s concern is that William’s strong sense of mortality will prevent him from being able to drink blood from a person. It turns out even worse than he feared. Not only can his father not drink blood from humans and other vampires, he wasn’t healed and now he’s trapped for eternity as a vampire suffering from Alzheimer’s. Considering this an even greater abomination now than before, Julian makes Eleisha into a vampire so she can be William’s nursemaid for eternity as well. (End spoilers.) I found this a very powerful reminder that everything has a price and not everything goes according to plan, that in fact every action and choice has consequences.
Thank you for avoiding the almost UF-standard love triangle. In fact, there wasn’t much of a romantic subplot in this book at all. That might change in the future but I found that a nice change of pace. I will honest, though, when I say I found the telepath’s obsession with Eleisha very creepy and unhealthy. The disconnect between his feelings for her and Eleisha’s inability to understand them was another effective way to remind us that Eleisha is no longer human. I also want to thank you for portraying the tense relationship between Eleisha and Maggie. I’ve complained in the past that we don’t see enough UF heroines have female friends, and it was nice to see how two different vampire women could work past their differences to reach some accord. I look forward to future books in this series. B