Two books with Love in the title, one that I read in several days because I adored it and one that I read in several days because I skimmed huge chunks and realized belatedly that (the worst insult ever), I had read it before and forgotten. Both attempted to be about interpersonal relationships, but only one managed to feel real. Both even had relationships with people who were kind-of-sort-of dead. A talking head versus an immortal dude.
I adored this book. The funny thing about the two books I recently read are that I don’t usually do romances, but the premise of this drew me in. A future where, if you die hot and young and female, you might be cryogenically frozen in a “dating center” where rich men wake up just your reanimated head once in a while to see if your dirty talking skills are good enough for them to pay to get you revived. It’s brutal and horrific, but its twisted logic – at least the women get a chance to live again! – is what makes it so heartbreaking.
The thing is, the “bridesicles” aren’t really the point. The idea anchors the plot, but it’s the richly developed world and intricate interpersonal relationships that keep the story going. The technology is at times just a few steps ahead of our own – you can “pop in” a screen anywhere, listen to anyone’s conversation in a public place, and if you want to live a public life you can let people see you 24/7, gaining more followers as you manufacture drama to keep them interested. It’s just a little above our current culture, where people instagram every meal and tweet their bowel movements and sometimes livestream their every move.
The book manages to simultaneously show the shallowness of technology while not being too heavy handed. Instead of tech becoming smaller and smaller, the “systems” people wear are their literal clothing, showing everyone exactly how state-of-the-art they are. Shoes glide on the sidewalk to make walking easier, but only in rich “high town” which hovers above the rest of the masses and casts its shadow over this future New York City. People can use their systems to filter reality to exactly what they want it to be – make themselves appear skinnier or prettier to others, filter out bad smells and broken-down buildings, even filtering the homeless – literally erasing them from view. Everything is beautiful when everything is fake.
The world is richly developed with hints of history that leave you wanting more. Like the briefly mentioned “ten percenters,” the grandparents of current characters: ten percent of their generation was born with extreme handicaps due to an additive in ice cream. Or the walled-off city which no human can set foot in. Or the fact that they all live crammed in cities, with only the desperately poor and those wanting a “raw life” without technology surviving in the abandoned countryside. You could write a hundred books about this world, and I wish he would.
The characters are deeply flawed, human and likeable. I think people will most be able to relate to Veronika, who feels so small and unimportant in her technologically-driven life that she takes to haunting a bridge in her spare time, desperate to save someone attempting suicide just so that she can connect with another person and feel good about herself. She finds a man even worse off then her and makes herself his Manic Pixie Dream Girl, showing him the world so that she can see herself reflected in his eyes. She feels very broken and very real, but as she builds herself and figures herself out it’s like watching someone finally grasp some larger truth.
I’m not going to get into the plot itself, because I want you to read the book. And please do, really. Read it. I rarely get so excited about a novel.
Dracula in Love, by Karen Essex
This book disappointed me. That’s the best word I can use: disappointed. You start off so strong, Karen! Where did it all go wrong?
There are two major flaws in this book. First, Karen Essex doesn’t know what story she wants to tell or what book she wants to write. Second, she falls into the classic pitfall of wanting so badly to make a villain sexy that she, quite literally, de-fangs him.
I’ll admit one embarrassing truth before starting this review: I read (re-read, actually, though I didn’t realize it at the time) this book because I seriously love the Dracula TV show with Jonathon Reese Myers. I love the anachronistic outfits, the gorn, the scenery chewing, and even JRM’s perpetually just-finished-weeping eyes. I was never a vamp fan because they’re usually either too evil to be sexy or too de-fanged to be sexy, but this show walks the line – I get to see him sex up AND rip the heads off people, so I’m cool.
Karen Essex didn’t want to write a book about Dracula. She wanted to write multiple books: a sexy immortal love story, a historical drama, a book exposing the horrors of ye olde asylums and how women were treated in late 1800s. Was it a book about love, about feminism, horror, fantasy, romance, or a world changing from the old to the new? All of these should have been separate books, but they were crammed into one. None of these really intersected with the idea of vampires or the original Stoker novel, except in the names of characters. Everything is changed to make Dracula and Mina flawed heroes and everyone else either bumbling or evil. The ending is rushed and feels forced. And the biggest problem, spoiler alert:
HE’S NOT A VAMPIRE.
Not really. The whole back story is so convoluted and out of place with the rest of the novel that it felt like I was stepping suddenly out of a Gothic horror and into a YA fantasy. I guess the real question is: Why can’t we have vampires and their fangs too?
Also, she describes him going down on her as like a “lamprey.” Google lamprey right now. I’m totally serious, please, do it. Just do it.
I’ll end on that lovely note.