Nolene-Patricia Dougan, |
Vrolok is an ambitious, wildly entertaining romp through history that manages to rewrite vampiric lore in the process.
The story begins with Vlad Dracula, but that's where the similarity with virtually every other vampire novel you've ever read ends. The world born of author Nolene-Patricia Dougan's imagination is like some alternate universe in which history and legend merge into a world that feels much like our own -- until we see the true causes of each seemingly familiar effect. Dougan makes some fairly audacious changes to traditional vampire lore, including a rather brilliant recasting of Van Helsing, forcefully disproving the argument that there is nothing new under the sun in the vampire genre.
Dougan's sense of playfulness with the story stretches a tad bit thin for me personally when she puts vampires alongside Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp in the American West, but this is quickly forgotten as she puts a deliciously evil bite into the novel's climactic final chapters.
Isabella, the story's vampire protagonist, is a wonderfully developed character, and, like some of her temporary companions, it's sometimes easy to forget that she is something far removed from a charming and beautiful young woman, but Isabella has a way of reminding us all of exactly who and what she is.
A Slovak girl growing up in the shadow of Vlad's looming castle, it is Isabella's forthright curiosity that leads to her encounters with the legendary prince and her turning from human to vampire. Unable to face a family who believes her to be dead, she initially stays with Vlad, but theirs is a love-hate relationship from the very start. Although it gravitates over time to love, Isabella and Vlad seemed destined to spend most of their many, many years apart. Isabella's travels will take her far and wide in the centuries to come, but a part of her remains forever bound to her native Transylvania and her Slovak people. Always a woman of her word, she lives up to her commitment to protect the family of her best friend -- and ultimately all of the Slovak people -- even if it means overthrowing a government. Like most vampires, Isabella struggles at times with a guilty conscience, vowing to kill only those who deserve such a fate, but she never lets that get in the way of her feeding. And she lets nothing and no one stand between her and revenge against those who have wronged her. Isabella, to put it lightly, is quite a woman.
What makes Isabella's story truly fascinating, though, is the interweaving of so many legendary and historical characters into her centuries of existence. She is intimately connected (but not in the manner you might expect) with the legendary evil of Countess Bathory, hears Nostradamus' final prophecy (which refers to the important part she goes on to play in the French Revolution), saves the life of a young man named Napoleon Bonaparte, fights in several European wars as well as the War Between the States in America, befriends the aforementioned Holliday, meets Bram Stoker (and a number of other famous historical figures) and ultimately exacts a cold, calculated and vicious revenge upon the subjects of Stoker's novel Dracula, namely the Harkers, Dr. Seward and Van Helsing.
I really loved the way Dougan set everything up for such a momentous ending, especially in terms of Isabella's rather startling relationship with Van Helsing. Like a spider spinning her web, Dougan brings disparate story lines together in the end to make the story's climax particularly momentous and poignant -- and, of course, rather vicious. If I were to tell you how Dougan connects all of these characters together, you might think it sounds like a joke, but Dougan pulls it all off with remarkable aplomb and effectiveness. Few writers would have the audacity to even make the effort, and only a few could actually pull it off so effectively. By the time you finish Vrolok, you will have gained a new perspective on everything you ever knew about vampires.
Isabella is not the kind of brooding, self-absorbed vampire you will find in the work of Anne Rice, even though her personal story is chock full of brood-worthy material -- from the sister who betrayed her in life to her rather tragic relationship with Vlad to the descendant she mistakenly turns into a vampire to her extraordinary relationship with Van Helsing. I haven't even mentioned the vampiric enemies who attempt to kill her on several occasions or expounded upon the only means by which she can be killed (which makes for an integral part of the story).
As you can see, there is a true abundance of riches worked into the plot of this extraordinary novel. It's unlike any vampire story I've ever read, and that is why I found Vrolok to be such an immensely enjoyable, fascinating read.
16 June 2007