Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ravenloft: Vampire of the Mists

I originally wrote this review in February 2010 and posted it on Good Reads.  I'm about to start reading the second book in this series, so I thought I'd clean this up a little and post it over here in the meantime.

For those of you who are unaware, Ravenloft is a gothic horror based setting for the Dungeons & Dragons game. Primarily in the 1990s, a series of novels were produced within this setting.  The Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance novels were selling very well, so it was logical for TSR to want to branch out into a set of gothic horror tales.  The convenient thing about Ravenloft was that it is essentially a "pocket dimension" into which characters from other dimensions can find themselves by chance.  This allowed them to take characters who, if not familiar themselves, came from familiar worlds, and dump them into this new one.  Vampire of the Mists is the first novel in the Ravenloft series.

I think I was about 15 the first time I read this book, and I absolutely loved it then. The main character, Jander Sunstar, had such an effect on me that I wanted so desperately to hear more about his adventures before becoming a vampire, and I frequently used his name when given the choice to name characters in video games.  I had borrowed the book from my then boyfriend and so post break up I no longer had access to the book. Noticing it on the cheap used recently, I decided to pick it up and see if I still would love it as much as I did.

This is by no means a perfect book. I think the fact that this is Christie Golden's first novel shows through, but I also think a lot of it is not her fault. Being the first of the series, she was tasked with largely introducing us to this world and its main character, Strahd, who for all intents and purposes is Dracula. As such, his story bears a strong resemblance to the Dracula we know from the films, and in a way Jander is nothing more than Jonathon Harker with a twist. It's interesting to me that his origin has some similarities to the Bram Stoker's Dracula film, which was not released into theaters until one year after this book was published.

The changes and twists make all the difference for this novel. Jander is a gold/high elf who was turned into a vampire while still living within the Forgotten Realms universe.  His elf breed bears a strong resemblance to Lord of the Rings elves in manner, and Jander does not forget his ideals once he is changed.  As an elf he worshiped Lathander Morninglord, the god of dawn.  I know by now we've all seen the vampire trying to do good so many times that it's become cliche, but I would like to point out this novel pre-dates both Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series and Twilight by a great number of years.  For me at least, the fact that he is an elf and not just a vampire cursed with a soul or whatever the Twilight reasoning is keeps the concept feeling fresh here.

Jander is carried by the title mentioned mists into Strahd's kingdom, following a woman he has fallen in love with. He initially makes friends with Strahd, but it doesn't take long for Jander to realize that he and the count do not see eye to eye.  The time line in the book feels incredibly rushed at certain points. We follow along on a daily basis, and then jump 10 to 15 years in the future suddenly. I think you could make the argument that this is to signify what life is like for an immortal, how fast time can pass when you live forever. But it can also be momentarily jarring to the reader. It also means that characters are introduced and then quickly disappear, and some characters don't enter the book until quite late and yet you're still supposed to be attached to them. To Golden's credit, she does create characters that are likeable enough for you to care.

While I would not go into this book expecting a masterpiece, I think anyone who enjoys fantasy and gothic horror will enjoy the book.  Christie Golden did write at least one more story of Jander, within the story collection Realms of Valor.  She's also written two more of the books in the Ravenloft series as well as Star Trek, Starcraft, and World of Warcraft novels.

I happen to own Realms of Valor as well, so I pulled that out and read the short story, "One Last Drink" last night.  The story is set within the Forgotten Realms universe, at an unspecific amount of time before Vampire of the Mists, where Jander has already become a vampire. Within the laws of this universe, vampires must obey the commands of the vampire who sired them, so while Jander is trying to do good, he's forced to do the bidding of a rather Lestat-like vampire.  The story is set within a tavern in one night where his sire Cassius wants to slaughter everyone inside and Jander does his best to save them, along with the help of a moon elf fighter and a human bard/priest.  This was written two years later, and unfortunately I can't say her prose has improved.  It's just a little too flowery at times.  However I think she does a great job presenting action scenes without getting overly technical, and you get attached to the characters even in such a brief exchange.  Realms of Valor also contains stories that star Drizzt Do'Urden and Arilyn Moonblade, two of my other favorite characters in the Forgotten Realms universe.  It's worth picking up if you can find it as it gives you a decent taste of all these characters (and more) that you can then go try their novels if you find one you like.

The next novel in this series is Knight of the Black Rose, and features possibly the most well known character from the Ravenloft series of novels, Lord Soth.  That same boyfriend who let me borrow Vampire of the Mists read this book and absolutely loved it - while I was using Jander as a chosen name, he would usually use Soth.  For whatever reason I never read the book myself back then, so I'm anxious to see if it will live up to the hype he gave it or fall flat.

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