Some of you may have noticed that I’m somewhat jaded when it comes to horror. I started reading Stephen King over thirty years ago, and I think I’ve seen just about everything the genre can do with the basic tropes: werewolves, vampires, ghosts, ghouls, psychotic killers, haunted houses, rabid animals, demonic possession, you name it, I’ve probably read it.
Which is why it’s genuinely exciting (and an absolute rare treat) for me to see a new author developing his considerable talents right before my eyes. Mr. Greene has a genuine gift for taking classic ideas, dusting them off, and displaying them in a way that lets their original beauty shine while still throwing a little something new and bold in with them.
Take The Crimson Calling. Now, vampires are tired, played-out, and have gone the way good music did, which is to say, what used to be a monster (musician) with teeth (guitar) is now a shiny, pretty teenager with a pout who might be a little edgy, but never really dangerous; always camera-ready, and never ever the least bit mean. Not so the vamps in Calling, and let me just give thanks for that from the bottom of my little nerd heart.
Ok, I’ve babbled about the vampires enough, I should probably tell a little bit of what the book is about. The setup is pretty fantastic. As I may have mentioned before, there are vampires in our world, and they pretty much live in secrecy. There are a few tantalizing allusions to The Great Vampire Eradication in the seventeenth century, but that’s about it as far as their history.
Our man character is Liv Irons, a former soldier who trained for special forces and has some pretty sweet fightin’ moves. She’s apparently now out of the service, and looking to start her life over somewhere quiet, working as a waitress in a small-town diner. Little does she realize that she’s going to be pulled into an entirely different direction.
The vampires are led by the Sanguinarian Council (and man I love that name), a group of ancient aristocrats and their queen. Meanwhile an elite, secret, and corrupt unit of the US military led by a woman named Devereaux is capturing vampires in hopes of creating a vampire army. The council approaches Liv for help, whisking her away to their castle in Europe.
Unfortunately, this is where things get a bit murky. Don’t get me wrong, the vampires vs. military thing is excellent.. And Liv, as a character, is one of the best parts of this book. We get just enough of her story to really care for her, and some beautifully tantalizing hints that the supernatural elements go to other, even more fascinating places. However, there’s just not enough meat with regards to the other characters, so when the blood starts flying (and oh, does it fly, and flow, and splatter, and spray, and gush, and…) it’s not as engaging as it should be.
The author’s focus is mainly on the conflicts, and in addition to several very detailed fight scenes throughout, the final third (!) of the book is one huge, sprawling battle scene. Now don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the occasional gratuitous violence in most of my chosen forms of entertainment, but I can’t help but feel as though Mr. Greene’s devotion to the subject is over the top.
It’s no secret that he is a truly gifted author, which is why it pains me to see his gift somewhat squandered here. While The Crimson Calling gets off to a great start, we’re left hanging on a lot of the things that would make the main characters interesting, and instead given a hundred pages of blow-by-blow details of which just-introduced-five-pages-ago character is hitting another character whose name we’ve seen a few times with a flying roundhouse lotus one-eighty or something.
I would’ve liked to see more of why Liv left the service, and I would’ve loved some backstory on Devereaux. The final paragraphs drop some hints about a potential sequel, and it may be one in which All Questions Are Answered. And of course, since it’s Patrick Greene, I will read it, because at the end of the day even his misfires are pretty damn good, and it tickles me to no end to know that there is probably another great read on the horizon.
The Nerd’s Rating: FOUR HAPPY NEURONS (and some garlic. Because even though the garlic thing is one vampire tradition that was never mentioned, garlic is delicious.)