Thursday, August 27, 2015

Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Becky Brendel

What I Read: Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Ex-spy James Asher comes home one evening to find his entire household asleep and a foreign gentleman standing over his wife Lydia. The stranger, Don Simon Ysidro, claims to be a vampire interested in hiring Asher to solve a serial murder case - someone has been killing the vampires of Victorian London, and if Asher manages to discover whodunnit, Ysidro (probably) won't kill Lydia.

What I Thought: This book was the first in an ongoing series about Asher, his wife Lydia, and their relationship to the vampire Ysidro; the series at large stands out for being intelligent, thoughtfully-written vampire fiction, and this first novel is no exception. Hambly's vampires have a clearly-defined set of strengths and weaknesses that feels completely "believable" - no turning into mist or sparkling in sunlight here - and she's put a lot of thought into what might happen to a person's personality after spending hundreds of years as a nocturnal predator (Ysidro, for instance, barely ever seems to exert effort or express emotion- he simply does not care after hundreds of years in undeath). Her vampires therefore become both sympathetic - being a vampire sounds horrible - and genuinely creepy. Even their pathos might be a trap.

The humans hold their own pretty well, however. Asher has seen his share of horrors himself - he quit working as a spy after becoming disillusioned - and he's refreshingly forthright with Lydia about Ysidro's request. Lydia is a treat: she went to medical school at a time in which ladies simply Did Not Do such things, so her first reaction to learning that the undead exist is a desire to dissect one. She's also brilliant and an excellent researcher whose contributions solve the case. There's an ongoing current of unease as Europe prepares for World War I; the evils men can do even without turning into vampires is a constant theme and threat throughout the series.

Oddly enough, Hambly's plots suffer because her leads are so intelligent and methodical: she's admitted herself in interviews that she has to keep having unexpected issues pop up out of nowhere since otherwise Asher and Lydia would see every threat coming. The result can feel disjointed, and Those Who Hunt the Night's "big reveal" disappointed me: yes, Hambly'd alluded to the characters responsible, but not in any context that would give a hint they were connected to the case. The murderer in a mystery novel should be unexpected, but having them seem completely peripheral until the climax felt unfair to the reader.

Plotting difficulties aside, however, Those Who Hunt the Night is highly recommended to anyone who likes spooky, threatening vampires - or who wants intelligence from their speculative fiction. World War I is looming in the story's timeline, and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series to see whether that shoe has dropped yet, and how Asher, Lydia, and Ysidro become involved when it does.

Readalikes: Bram Stoker's Dracula, for the classic vampire story (and one with which Hambly's characters are familiar); Gail Carriger's Soulless, for another original (if far more humorous) take on vampires.

Or look this book up on NoveList!