A new novel by L. Neil Smith
(Phoenix Pick, 2011)
This novel marks new territory for L. Neil Smith---his first novel on vampires. I am not a fan of the horror genre, but I wish my friend as much fortune as fellow science fiction writer Dean Koontz had when he switched to writing horror.
Sweeter Than Wine is sadly not going to be it. While I must confess to not being able to put the book down with one exception of needing to sleep, I read it nonstop in two days. However, while getting you involved in its characters and imagery--an L.Neil talent--it completely lacks the nail biting terror of becoming involved in a good horror book. It could be labeled more of a suspense novel involving vampires only without a whole lot of suspense. In fact, it was so tame I had to wonder if the intended audience was adolescent girls with fantasies of vampire romance.
The character Dracula and vampirocracy (if I can make up a word for the study of vampiricism, hey, another word!) are replete with metaphor---unfortunately none are on display in this novel, or I am incredibly obtuse. As expected some libertarian principles are expounded, but not as many as you might expect for L.Neil. But it is hard to be a vampire without violating the non-aggression principle so it takes some skill to intertwine libertarian ideas into a vampire novel.
But this is a worn story of American boy meets "French" girl, have fantastic sex, girl bites boy, girl runs away, life goes on... as an immortal vampire. The never aging hero moves back to small town America. Meanwhile an antagonist sets off to America in a "coffin" in the hold of a cargo ship (homage or cliché?) on a collision course with the hero.
Most of the book is spent in an interesting writer's tool of going back and forth between these two vampires in alternating chapters: Learning of the life, troubles and friends of our hero, Giff, the American vampire. And the feeding habits of the other vampire, Deabru, as he gets ever closer to our hero leaving a pile of bodies in his wake. Along the way we learn about the truths and myths of vampirism (as the author interestingly envisions it). And even how the Neanderthals died off.
The girl who sired him, Surica, eventually reunites with him and the bodies start to lead uncomfortably to Giff and threatening him with unwanted attention for what he is. This sets the stage for a climatic confrontation between vampires that gets pretty good, but then there is a disappointingly abrupt, anti-climactic ending. "That's it?" was all I was left with.
I am very sorry to say I cannot recommend this book.
L. Neil Smith is the multiple award winning author of Pallas and The Probability Broach.
On Sale July 13, 2011