Dear Ms. Hepsen:
Occasionally, a cover will do more to convince me to try a book than the summary on the back. A couple months ago, I came across this book online and halted in my tracks. The book’s description didn’t strike my "I need to read that immediately" chord, but I do tend to like vampire stories and there was just something about that cover that kept calling to me.
Angelica Belanov is the daughter of an English lady and a Russian prince. She also happens to be a very strong mind reader. So strong, in fact, that the thoughts of everyone around her frequently cause her a great deal of pain and discomfort as she knows of no way to block them out. Until recently, she’s lived a quiet life in the English countryside, reading books and playing her piano. That changes when her concerned brother decides to move to London so she can find a husband. Angelica has no intention of marrying, but unfortunately she receives word that nearly all of the Belanov family funds have been destroyed mid-transit from Russia. To save her beloved brother and herself from financial ruin, she realizes she must begin actively looking for a rich husband.
Alexander is a 500 year old vampire and a Russian Prince. Two hundred years ago, vampire slayers killed his sister. Mad with grief, Alexander hunted down and killed every last remaining slayer. His actions that night brought peace to the vampires. Two hundred years later, Alexander receives word that a vampire and a vampire slayer in London are jeopardizing that peace. His search to find the rogue vamp and the slayer takes him all over London including a party where he meets the beautiful Angelica.
I particularly enjoyed Ms. Hepsen’s take on vampire lore. Her vampires view their thirst for blood as a curse. They are born rather than created, and their need for blood along with their special abilities appears at puberty. We also discover that their race is slowly dying because fewer and fewer vampires live long enough to become fertile. Many among them hope for the coming of the Blessed: children born of a vampire and the rare human who will have all the benefits of being a vampire without their thirst for blood.
Despite liking the vamp details, I had several problems with the story. The first involved a big red herring. As the search for the rogue vamp and vampire slayer unfolds and tensions rise, the author spends a significant amount of time creating false expectations in the reader that are never explained or justified.
Second, there was Angelica’s imminent threat of poverty. I would have been ok with it had I understood why the funds were all being shipped over from Russia at that specific time. Angelica, her brother, and her parents lived in England for most, if not all, of Angelica’s life. We don’t get many details, but we are told that her parents died when she and her brother were "very young." Before that, her father’s "work kept him busy in London" and that their mother was an English lady who liked living close to home. Therefore, it was confusing why they waited all of this time to ship the entirety of their money over from Russia or why they would ship it all over at once. This little twist of course leads Angelica into a situation where she is (sort of) torn between the vamp who can’t marry her and the rich prospective husband who could solve her financial problems. However, it simply read as too contrived for me to sympathize with Angelica’s plight or to feel any sort of tension in her choice between the two men.
Third, there was Angelica herself. She improved with time and by the end I did like her, but she’s drawn with a rather heavy hand- particularly in the beginning. Within a few short pages we find out that she is not just smart, but very smart. She likes reading the newspaper every day. She raises topics such as philosophy for no other purpose than letting us know she has read philosophy. She can’t stay awake over breakfast because she spends all night reading. In fact, she has trouble talking with other women her age because all she thinks about is going home and reading her books. She’s a self-admitted bluestocking; she’s independent, spirited, and determined not to wed. Did I mention that she likes to quote? A lot. This becomes more apparent as the story progresses and we find that Angelica has a quote ready for any topic of discussion and isn’t afraid to use it. In fact, she gets in to a battle of wits/quotes with a random character, but that too sort of lacked any purpose except to remind us rather forcefully that Angelica is quite intelligent. Instead of being impressed by her intelligence I grew annoyed, and began wondering if she had an original thought in her head.
I liked Ms. Hepsen’s decision to set her story in 1871 England. I also liked her decision to make her protagonists Russian and thought it was a pleasant change from many vampire romances I’ve read. However, that decision also confused me. Beyond the prologue, their nationality had little, if anything, to do with the story, their characterization or their relationship. The meeting between our two protagonists in particular struck me as a little odd as well as the ending when we get a too late revelation about Angelica. If it weren’t for their names, I could have forgotten that they were Russian at all. Simple interactions lacked details in this regard and left me curious whether the author intentionally left out what could have been another layer to the story or whether she simply had a problem executing her idea.
Although I have complaints, I did enjoy Under the Blood Red Moon. It’s a pretty quick read and has some variations on vampire lore. Our protagonists are likable enough- despite Angelica’s annoying habit of quoting- but they’re not necessarily characters you’re going to remember very well in a week or two. The suspense regarding the search for the vamp and slayer is interesting although not particularly exciting. And finally, there are a few execution problems which prevented me from truly escaping into the story as I would have wished. While I didn’t love her first book and would have liked to have given it a better grade, I will be looking forward to Ms. Hepsen’s next work.