by S.G. Redling
Reviewed by Adam Armstrong
Vampires tend top pop up every other decade and become the bee’s knees to one demographic or another. The most recent resurgence was aimed at lonely teenage (and unfortunately some older) girls, with the Twilight Series. This felt more like calculated, targeted marketing than crafty storytelling. It pulled the same tired stories and clichés and poured them into the minds of girls wanting to find the perfect undead man. If you want to pull out a cliché and try to make something out of it you better have some good writing chops (think Salem's Lot by Stephen King or, a little more obscure but the wonderfully written short story by Robert Bloch, "The Scent Of Vinegar"). Or dig a little deeper into the mythology, and find something that may have been there all along.
The Nahan have always been with us. They walk amongst us and hide in plain sight. They feed off of humanity without killing too often. This backstory is woven in and around two young socially awkward Nahan. Stell is part of the “true family,” a religious sect of the Nahan that has an Amish feel. They see their own existence and customs as an abomination and strive to purify themselves of their most basic urges. Stell grows up uneducated, alone, and trapped in a life she doesn’t want but can’t get away from. One day while she is skinny dipping on a mountain, she meets Tomas. Tomas is a bit slow but his cousin and best friend, Louis, thinks he'll come around. The two meet and immediate join one another in a passionate romp.
Tomas truly falls for Stell and introduces her to his family and friends. Though they try to be nice to Stell, they know that her being one of the true family will prevent the two from ever getting along. Tomas's family thinks that once he has his Avalentue, a rite of passage that involves traveling, he will forget about Stell. Conversely Stell's mother attempts to get her away from Tomas by taking her on the True family's version of Avalentue. While they travel they find their true calling and then go to find one another.
The beginning is a bit slow and drawn out. That's not always a bad thing but here it felt as through Redling (the author) needed to get to the point sooner. She was also playing with the fact that the Nahan are some kind of vampires, without stating it. There was one too many hints dropped and then dragged along long after we knew what they were.
Tomas decides he wants to be a storyteller against everyone's wishes. Storytellers keep the Nahan safe by creating new lives for them as they age at a much slower rate than humans. Stell decides to stay with Tomas though she is battling her ever-growing bloodlust. Tomas begins his rigorous training but starts to see something moving behind the scenes, something that is anything but benevolent. Stell also begins to learn things about the storytellers that make her not only fear for Tomas’ live, but the lives of all Nahan.
Ourselves has a bit of an odd layout for a novel. The first portion is character development with no real direction. The plot didn't advanced much, the reader is just spinning his wheels while being overwhelmed with exposition. The socially awkward hero archetype is almost as overdone now as the mysterious, handsome stranger or the pain girl that comes out of her shell and is all of a sudden beautiful. The second niggling fact that bothered me was that there was no clearly defined antagonist until near the end of the book. Again, all books don’t need an antagonist (however most speculative books have one), but the characters’ struggles weren't even brought to light until the second half of the novel.
Vampires in general I find tiring. There are only a handful of writers that I feel handle them well. But turning the mythology on its head, or its side in this case, does breathe a little bit of life into the mythos. Redling skipped over the usual stake through the heart, creeping around at night, and super attractiveness that has been slipped into mainstream vampire media. This makes the Nahan a bit more original (though not as original as say the vampire from Peter Watts excellent novel, Echopraxia), however not that much more interesting.
The most interesting aspect of the novel was the storytellers and their motivations; however, we didn’t get as close a look as we would have liked.
Overall the novel isn’t bad. There is a bit of tag playing with the readers as to what the Nahan are and a bit of an odd story structure, but Redling is a decent writer. She also at least tried to take something that has become cliché, vampires, and twist and push them in a new direction.
The publisher may struggle to find the right market for Ourselves as there is too much violence for the casual reader and not enough for veteran horror readers. But for less than five dollars for the Kindle version Ourselves is well worth checking out.
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