Science fiction and fantasy
by Sam Stone
A fair bit of the story is told in the first person from the point of view of Caesare, a.k.a. Chez, a vampire living in an uneasy threesome with Lilly and her other undead lover, Gabriele. They live underground beneath a castle like proper vampires, drinking human blood to keep themselves strong. Occasionally they kill people when they get too hungry and get carried away, but it's never out of sheer badness and they like to keep to themselves. Their quiet existence is disturbed when Amalia shows up. She's a weak new-born vampire, and she has bad news: one of their kind, an old friend of Lilly's, has been destroyed. The group decide that something with the power to kill an immortal is an immediate threat to them all, so they set off on the trail of it. They're looking for an artefact that targets the undead, but to do so they must confront its dangerous time-hopping wielder, Carduth.
The story jumps about from the present day to 2000 years in the past and various points in between, and it takes in a number of different points of view. This isn't as confusing as it sounds, although we're introduced to quite a lot of minor characters who are mainly there so they can die and show us how badly cursed this item they're chasing is.
Things get more interesting once the mystery develops and the relationships in the story are allowed to shift and grow. There's a striking contrast between the historical settings and the prosaic modern world of construction sites and offices. This novel improves considerably once it gets going, and it becomes a very readable and fast-paced tale with plenty of action and suspense. The character of Anja, an empath with the power to make people she touches remember whatever she wants them to, is intriguingly conflicted. She's no innocent, but as she tries to figure out who to trust readers are offered the same dilemma over whether or not to root for her.
Chez is often preoccupied by his feelings for Lilly, and I found his character a touch soppy. However it's easy to understand his jealousy of Gabi, and the conflict he feels between wanting his rival out of the way and not actually wishing his friend harm. But just when the vampires start to seem human they're apt to do something freakishly supernatural like flying, or to indulge in killings, so we're not allowed to forget their basic monstrosity.
Hateful Heart is a varied story that deals with a wide range of emotional states. There's sex, but it's just as likely to be creepy as it is tender or romantic, and anyway it's not the dominant theme. This is aimed squarely at adults, but it's not the kind of book that the "mature content" warning on the back might imply. The action is neither excessively grisly nor too tame, and the characters gain depth and become more believable as the story progresses. The time travel aspect is simply executed: people step through waterfall-like portals into other eras. The time-paradox problem is explained away as time being linear for the individual, so that a character can't go back and change anything that has already affected them. It doesn't stand up to scrutiny, but then time travel stories rarely do. It's a matter of suspending disbelief and enjoying the rest of the ride. Sam Stone doesn't mess about by baffling readers with science, instead she simply glosses over the issue.
Hateful Heart isn't a dumb book, but nor is it full of obscure cultural references or historical details that most people won't understand. So in most senses, this is a distinctly accessible, mainstream novel. There are vampires and that may imply a certain weirdness, but these are standard undead creatures similar to those in many other stories rather than a whole new sparkling incarnation of these fanged nightwalkers. The book needs proofreading, and the prologue could do with much subtler dialogue, but on the whole this is an exiting adventure and a solid mystery that I think will have wide appeal.
13th December 2011
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