Vampires. The readers who love them all have an origin story where their interest was seeded at some point. For the truly enthusiastic fans, we tend to read the gamut of material out there to understand the breath of what the fiction about these particular monsters have to offer. I admit my knowledge is incomplete, but every so often I amble back to the early places where my love for the coffin-dwelling, sunlight-averse, blood-drinking, fangy creatures began.
I remember my fascination with vampires began with Anne Rice when I was eleven or twelve, and I first read The Vampire Lestat for the first time. Thus followed Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Carmilla, screenings of Nosferatu, Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, Agyar (where the v-word is never once used), and then in young adult fiction, we watched things degenerate with Twilight.
It’s been a long, hard road back from Stephenie Meyer, and in my humble opinion, I feel like I’ve taken it at a crawl since. Edward hobbled me a bit, and not in a good way. (Have I mentioned that time I binge read the entirety of the Laurell K. Hamilton series of Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter books? I did that a few years back. It didn’t help restore my adoration for the blood suckers, but they still do hold a special place in my heart.)
For the longest time, I thought Graves’ origin story would go that route, having been in the company of a necromancer for so many years, but as fate would have it, my characters surprised me and took me down a different path altogether.
Back to the point: I picked up my first vampire book in about five years right before leaving for Costa Rica. It was described as being an “unusual take on vampires” which carries one part foreboding (see the aforementioned Twilight comments) and one part interest. Maybe it was time to crawl back to the place where my heart truly committed to the darkness. Maybe it was time to honour my Bunnicula-loving early memories. Maybe it would purge any lingering vegan-vampire-bear-eating-nonsense from my palette.
Post Mortem: The Fifth House of the Heart by Ben Tripp
The Fifth House of the Heart by Ben Tripp did not disappoint, nor did it wholly restore my love for the vamps.
Good book? Yes. Good vampires? Yes. But what really sold me was the unlikable but likeable narrator, Saxon-Tang. The why: when dealing with monsters in horror fiction, it’s perhaps too easy to turn the lens on the creatures themselves. If the vampire was ever intended as a reflection of humanity it’s its most depraved and sinister, it follows that these creatures reflect on humankind’s baser natures. Monsters mirror our darkest selves, and in that, we find something horrific. Following that train of thought, Tripp’s vampires reflect on the nature of his protagonist; a hoarding, greedy, self-preserving sort of guy who lacks the scruples to make him a hero, and he acknowledges and embraces that fact.
I recognize that I’m supposed to like-hate him, and I do, and in that I consider this book a success.
Secondary cast? Rich, varied, demonstrating multiple ethnicities that defy gender conventions. A flexible use of religious-inspiration as well when it comes to destroying the creatures too, and the church is involved to an extent as well. Oh, P.S., Sax is gay. Very gay. And working with the church. Hilarity ensues — the dry, self-deprecating sort that got me chuckling.
Character voice? Super strong. The richest of the descriptions from the Fifth House of the Heart are delivered through Sax’s discoveries of the treasure hoards: as a collector himself, his desire for these objects — from Ming Vases to the ormolu clock that haunts him from the opening auction — is incredible detailed. Sax’s hunger is a palpable thing, and these scenes are gilded and shining as a result. (Any history buff will wet themselves.)
The narrative flips between various instances in Sax’s hazy history as a collector, as vampires tend to hoard the wealth of humanity — the beautiful things, from art to fine collectible pieces from various periods. His run in’s are violent, gory, and truly inventive inasmuch as the creatures are sophisticated in defending themselves.
It’s an imaginative book overall, and although a little on the long side, I killed the four hundred page read in about two days while travelling.
Much recommended for any one who loves art, blood, and dry wit.
Published by Gallery Books on July 28th 2015
Check it out: Goodreads
Filled with characters as menacing as they are memorable, this chilling twist on vampire fiction packs a punch in the bestselling tradition of ’Salem’s Lot by Stephen King.
Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang, a vainglorious and well-established antiques dealer, has made a fortune over many years by globetrotting for the finest lost objects in the world. Only Sax knows the true secret to his success: at certain points of his life, he’s killed vampires for their priceless hoards of treasure.
But now Sax’s past actions are quite literally coming back to haunt him, and the lives of those he holds most dear are in mortal danger. To counter this unnatural threat, and with the blessing of the Holy Roman Church, a cowardly but cunning Sax must travel across Europe in pursuit of incalculable evil—and immeasurable wealth—with a ragtag team of mercenaries and vampire killers to hunt a terrifying, ageless monster…one who is hunting Sax in turn.
From author Ben Tripp, whose first horror novel Rise Again “raises the stakes so high that the book becomes nearly impossible to put down” (Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother), The Fifth House of the Heart is a powerful story that will haunt you long after its final pages.