BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Socially anxious and bored with high society life, Charlotte finds herself drawn to the vampire Karl, her father’s new research assistant. As their relationship grows, they find themselves under growing threat from Karl’s old master, the obsessive and twistedly-religious Kristian.
PROS: Intelligent social commentary; uncommon time period for such a novel; beautifully poetic writing.
CONS: Somewhat predictable plot; heavy use of what are now common vampire tropes.
BOTTOM LINE: It won’t revitalize the genre, but it’s a welcome addition to bookshelves that are filled with trite immortal romances — enough of a change from convention and with enough social and scientific commentary that it will keep readers engaged and entertained.
A classic vampire-human historical romance, set in England after World War I, is what Warrington sets up in A Taste of Blood Wine. Not an idea that hasn’t been done in a dozen and one forms over time, to the point where most offerings of this type are fairly derivative and don’t bring anything new or interesting to the genre. So right off the bat Warrington’s work faces some stiff competition in that it’s another vampire romance in a saturated genre, and thus, sadly, is likely to be overlooked and passed over.
Which would be a big mistake.
With an evocative writing style that calls to mind Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles for its poetic narration, Warrington manages to write some wonderfully realistic characters in a setting that isn’t given very much attention in historical genre fiction, post WWI England. She has a real knack for bringing characters to life, too, with speech patterns and mannerisms that transport the reader back in time and dump them in the middle of high-society affairs. Charlotte occupies an interesting place in that society, as the middle daughter of a scientist who has no interest in said high-society affairs and would much rather be helping out her father with his experiments than fussing about looking pretty and attractive a prospective husband.
Warrington does, in fact, bring something new to the genre, and that is the exploration of the science behind vampirism. Exploration and discovery plays a major role in this book, both of the self and the world at large, with Charlotte’s innate curiosity at the forefront to ask questions and probe more deeply into what makes things work and why. She’s a wonderfully intelligent character to follow, though I confess that her tendency to blame herself for everything that went wrong got old pretty quickly. Very fitting for the character, but still a bit tedious when you long for her to grow a backbone but all she does is heap piles of blame upon herself for everyone else’s problems. (Though in fairness, this may have rankled me particularly because it struck a little too close to home…)
If this book had drawbacks it was in its predictability, and on its reliance on what are by now fairly standard vampire fiction tropes. In fairness again, though, at the time this book was first written, such tropes were not as heavily established in fiction. But at this stage of the game, there are some things that you just come to expect when you’re reading about vampires. The mortal lover being turned (or at least asking to be turned) into a vampire, the vampire’s attempts to explain how dark and horrible vampirism is, the old “we must stay away from mortals because they don’t understand us and we’re too dangerous” spiel. The plot was definitely entertaining, and Warrington’s talent for weaving a story drew me along effortlessly, but nothing in this book surprised me or was an unexpected development.
As far an antagonists go, Kristian is an excellent one, provided you like people with God complexes as your antagonists. Which I do, because I find them psychologically fascinating. Kristian alternated between seeing himself as a servant of God and an extension of God, and manipulated his vampiric flock accordingly. The saddest part about him is that you truly do get the feeling that what he wants from Karl is love, only he’s equated love with utter obedience and doesn’t know how to separate the two. I could read many more chapters from his viewpoint; I found him to be a good villain for the piece.
In the end, while I can’t say that Warrington’s work will revitalize the genre, it certainly is a welcome addition to bookshelves that are filled with trite immortal romances that follow the same old formulas in the same old setting. A Taste of Blood Wine is enough of a change from convention that it grabs a reader’s interest, and has enough scientific speculation, social commentary, and historical detail to really set the tone properly and keep readers engaged. This book leaves my hands highly recommended, and I look forward to continuing on with the sequel, A Dance in Blood Velvet.