Review: A Taste of Blood Wine / Author: Freda Warrington / Publisher: Titan / Release Date: May 3rd
Another vampire romance? Ah, but cut this one some slack, because it was originally published in 1992, well before the current glut of bloodsucker bodice-rippers. And also, it's a really, really splendid read. The time is 1923. The shy, withdrawn daughter of a celebrated physicist, Charlotte Neville spends her days and nights beavering away in her father's Cambridge lab, while her flighty sisters Fleur and Madeleine live it up in London. But then her father takes on a new lab assistant, the mesmerically handsome Karl von Wultendorf, and soon it's not just her Bunsen burner which is throbbing with heat.
Karl is of course a vampire, and put baldly the story sounds like sheer Mills and Boon. But that is to reckon without the sophistication of Warrington's writing. Because the book has its human vampires too – without meaning to, and with only the best intentions, Charlotte's family have been sucking the life out of her for years, trapping her in the role of spinster and drudge. Karl is her ticket out of this – or at least he would be if he wasn't in rather a similar situation himself.
And that leads us to another of the novel's strengths – its quirky vampire mythos. Karl's maker is the invincible Kristian, who lives in a castle but is otherwise quite different from your stock Dracula wannabe. A fire and brimstone preacher in his human life, he now see himself as god and high priest rolled into one, and he expects all of the other vampires to worship him or else face internment on in icy higher plane called the Weisskalt. Karl is Kristian's favourite, and woe betide him if he doesn't come to heel.
The bulk of the novel therefore consists of Charlotte's attempts to break free of her family and Karl's attempts to break free of Kristian. It's a story that plays out over cups of tea and glasses of brandy in the drawing rooms of chic London townhouses and glittering stately homes, and here again Warrington shows her writer's chops, layering in exquisite period detail. Sometimes the effect is playfully satirical – as when an arty gathering of Fleur's Bloomsbury friends turns into a nightmare of torn-out throats – but more often it's lusciously picturesque; and, with the characters barrelling around in Hispano-Suizas and the like, it's all attractively reminiscent of the lux, country house horror of Hammer's The Devil Rides Out. On this evidence, Freda Warrington is like a cross between Anne Rice and Kim Newman – she has the sweep of one, the cleverness of the other. Titan will be reissuing the other titles in the series throughout the year, and they're not to be missed.