A Masterclass in Character Conflict
Reviewed by Jeremy Billingsley
Nancy Kilpatrick’s vampire gothic romance begins, like a Shakespearean tragedy, in media res with the vampire king’s return to his homeland after being incarcerated by the humans. The backstory of his entrapment is told to us as the current story moves on. This was a story of deviant revenge on the part of Moarte, the vampire king, looking to finally defeat his human, or Sapien, counterpart.
The omniscient third person narrator really gets into the head of the character around which each scene is oriented. Moarte himself has a conflict with the vampire king, with Valada, and even with his mother and his consorts. But the story doesn’t just unfold through his eyes. Scenes are focused around enough of the other characters to give us a real image of the world, but we know Moarte is a character to pay attention to even from the get-go.
The diction of the narration is often overly simplistic, though certain acts described leave little to the imagination. While Kilpatrick does a great job using specific terms to describe settings and characters, her descriptions of sexual acts are more gruesomely detailed. The reader is left feeling violated at times or that the narrator is misogynistic. Still, regarding the setting, she foregrounds just enough for the reader to recognize what is different in the world without over explaining our contemporary imaginings of the Middle Ages or castles.
The dialogue, at times, feels pedestrian and doesn’t ring true to the ear, but more something to serve the plot. There are also moments that feel missed, such as when Moarte and Valada fly back to her kingdom. Kilpatrick tells us how arduous the ride is on a human, but when they are actually in flight, we don’t get much of a feel for this until Valada realizes how tired she is once they land. There is a period of euphoria described during the flight, but I feel as though the two emotions could have been better juxtaposed to take the reader on this journey with her.
Somewhat late in the story, there is mention of genes and DNA and that Moarte’s mother can mesmerize others, but this feels tacked on when it’s convenient to reveal, and I would have liked even a passing introduction to this earlier in the novel.
But these things pale when compared to Kilpatrick’s real talent: conflict as it should exist.
As writers, we know that conflict doesn’t come from engagements in the plot, but exists between characters, and so DRIVES the plot. When Moarte wants Valada but she doesn’t reciprocate, there is conflict. When Moarte and Valada later agree to destroy her father and bring the war between the two factions back to the Sapien turf, there is conflict.
Kilpatrick does a terrific job of introducing the characters and showing the conflict between them. Wolfsbane does what she does to sabotage the mission because of her desire for Moarte and the realization that he has eyes only for Valada. Moarte’s mother sees this, as does the human spy Serene.
I do think that the roads to get us to some of these conflicts could be clearer. I don’t totally buy into Valada falling for Moarte, but once she does and the conflict is set, I’m completely on board. (BTW, Nancy, kudos on the proleptic moment when Moarte and Valada must separate: foreshadowing at its finest.)
In the end, the characters feel real enough that I want to go on this journey with them, and the study of conflict/crisis/resolution as revealed through the characters’ interactions is alone worth the journey. In the end, for fans of Kilpatrick or of the genre, this is a fun ride into an established fantasy world.