Here be Dragons

Synopsis:

Dr. Edward Weyland is an anthropology professor in the Cayslin Center for the Study of Man. Some people think he is an introverted, lonely scholar absorbed in great work; some say he has a secret sorrow too painful to share; others claim he is a charlatan or a genius working himself to death just to prove he can. Almost nobody guesses that he is a vampire.

One day Weylands attacks Katje de Groot, a maintenance worker who has suspected for some time he is not just a work-driven social scientist; as a result of their struggle he is almost mortally wounded. His life goes downwards from that point and reaches a low when he is found and abducted by a band of unscrupulous humans, led by a man called Roger. They feed him, helping to survive and heal, and they provide a shelter but only because they want to exploit him in the most profitable way they can think of. After a while Roger invites along a Satanist, Alan Reese, who wants Weyland to become his most prized MayDay sacrifice – the event which he intends to be recorded and broadcast, in other words sold. Weyland escapes in the last possible moment only because Mark, a 15-year-old nephew of Roger, employed by his uncle as a kind of caretaker, cannot bear the burden of observing anybody, even a vampire, being humiliated, condemned to death, and denied food for a longer period of time.

After that accident Weyland tries hard to rebuild his academic persona with the help of Floria Landauer, a middle-aged psychotherapist. Once again he is on the brink of revealing too much of himself to an intelligent, incisive and curious woman and he must flee. Will he be able to return to his old role or will he be killed? Or maybe he will go into the Sleep to wake up in new, different times?

My impressions:

This is a selection of episodes from a long life of an ultimate predator, a story mainly about the precarious survival – not about love, hate, fighting or caring about the others. It is divided into 5 parts novella-like which could be taken individually and read as short stories (in fact chapter 3 was originally published separately as The Unicorn Tapestry). The novel was very well-written and the author managed to capture that ‘otherness’ of a mind of an untamed beast who has to mimic his prey in order to succeed. I suppose the biggest asset of this story is the fact that Weyland as a character is nothing you expect. Forget about super-handsome, super-horny vampire hotties who sparkle and are as emotional as your average teenager when they aren’t busy stalking all the pretty girls in their area. Forget about haughty and proud vampire overlords who rule their covens swinging swords and other weapons of choice with deadly precision but deep down are like those white fluffy bunnies – in dire need for a company of a worthy female or two. Compared to Weyland these are not vampires, these are normal guys dressing up like children in a kindergarten. The Vampire Tapestry is, contrary to many paranormal romance books, an adult novel of impressive psychological insight and chilling horror.

In many reviews I’ve read that people didn’t like the main lead, found him boring or disgusting. I admit Weyland is easy to despise, even hate, especially if you, starting this novel, expected just a tortured human with fangs. Well, I would compare him to a great predator, a mountain lion, leopard or cheetah – plenty of people find these animals mesmerizingly pretty but what would they say if one of those big cats attacked their pet or even worse, somebody from their family? Weyland is presented and acts like a highly specialized predator. He can be pleasant and charming, he is nice to look at despite his age (he looks like a fit man is in his fifties). Yes, he exploits the softer aspects of human nature, like the need to congregate and communicate, the need of tenderness, understanding and love but he never empathizes – he can’t and he doesn’t want to.

In the first part it becomes obvious that he is not beneath killing just to satisfy his selfish hunger. Of course he prefers not to leave a trail of bodies in his wake but if a push comes to shove, no problem. He even pretends to rape women in order to divert any unwanted attention from himself. On the other hand I found his behaviour, as repulsive as it was, completely logic and understandable – any successful predator needs to be ruthless in order to survive and Weyland’s prey is cunning and might be dangerous to him because in this story the vampires are hardly immortal or/and indestructible. What made it work for me was the fact that Ms.McKee managed to present a psychologically viable ‘alien’, down to his scorn for ‘cattle’ he must pamper and endure in his own best interest.

The best parts of the book? I loved the lecture Weyland presented in the first part, speaking about hypothetical vampires, enjoying the game he was playing with his ignorant audience, growing more at ease on the podium as he warmed to his subject because who doesn’t like speaking about themselves? Then, later, the description of Weyland attending an operatic performance of Tosca and being affected by the human art form he’d been scorning I found simply brilliant. It was really nicely done, showing that sometimes your environment can change you despite yourself – yes, if you gaze at the abyss the abyss will, at some point, gaze back.

One more thing – I truly enjoyed the diversity of secondary characters. They were normal, three-dimensional people, most of them middle-aged or older, some of them handsome, some of them ugly but none of them judged just because of their appearance and muscles. As real-life as they come.

Final verdict:

This was the first novel I’d read that presented vampires from an evolutionary position, and it didn’t disappoint. If you want to read a gritty story about an ultimate predator with human-like intelligence and completely inhuman set of mind, this is your book. Don’t expect any romance or hormone-induced drama. Don’t expect mighty warriors fighting against other warriors for the favours of stunning females. No bats or fangs. No swooning beauties or sparkles. Expect modern settings with a dash of supernatural. I admit the book left me rather pleasantly impressed. In fact if vampires existed at all, I bet they would be similar to Weyland.

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