Sunday Soupçons #5

Posted 3rd April 2022 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Horror Reviews, Reviews, Sunday Soupçons / 0 Comments

soupçon/ˈsuːpsɒn,ˈsuːpsɒ̃/ noun
1. a very small quantity of something; a slight trace, as of a particular taste or flavor

Sunday Soupçons is where I scribble mini-reviews for books I don’t have the brainspace/eloquence/smarts to write about in depth – or if I just don’t have anything interesting to say beyond I LIKED IT AND YOU SHOULD READ IT TOO!

Just one this week!

Those Who Hunt the Night (James Asher, #1) by Barbara Hambly
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Horror
PoV: 3rd person, two PoVs

At the turn of the twentieth century, a former spy is called into service to hunt down a vampire killer...

Once a spy for Queen Victoria, James Asher has fought for Britain on every continent, using his quick wits to protect the Empire at all costs. After years of grueling service, he marries and retires to a simple academic’s life at Oxford. But his peace is shattered one night with the arrival of a Spanish vampire named Don Simon. Don Simon can disappear into fog, move faster than the eye can see, and immobilize Asher—and his young bride—with a wave of his hand. Asher is at his mercy, and has no choice but to give his help.

Because someone is killing the vampires of London, and James Asher must find out who—before he becomes a victim himself.

For years, I’ve reread this entire series almost every year. Hambly’s prose is decadently sensual, some of the most beautiful I’ve ever read (this applies to all her books, not just the James Asher series!) while simultaneously being some of the most compellingly readable – Those Who Hunt the Night is one of a small handful of go-to books when I’m ill, in pain, or having a Bad Brain Day, because even when I feel awful it (and the sequels) can always draw me in.

Beyond the prose, it has two huge things going for it: Hambly’s vampires are hands down my favourite in fiction, and secondly, despite it being called the James Asher series, Lydia Asher, his wife, is a major PoV character with an enormous amount of agency. She and James are partners in the truest sense of the word; the first thing James does when he discovers vampires are read is tell Lydia – no lying, no making up stories or trying to protect her from the truth, just pure honesty. And their relationship and trust in each other is so strong that she believes him!

I’ve just never seen a married couple like that in fiction, before or since. I love it so much!

As for the vampires: I get frustrated with vampires who are basically just humans who drink blood. I want to read about vampires who feel completely Other; alien and at least a little frightening, not mindlessly evil but beings I can’t completely understand, either. Hambly nails this; her vampires are still people, but the transformation from human to vampire has affected much more than their diet, and they absolutely feel deliciously and wholly Other. I also adore how James and particularly Lydia (who’s a doctor) speculate as to what vampirism is and how it might work; Hambly points out that it being a series of interlocking viruses would explain quite a few vampiric weaknesses, like their inability to tolerate silver. But there’s still a mystery at the heart of what makes up a vampire that I find absolutely wonderful – there’s still that element of magic and/or horror in the mix, inextricable from the rest.

Strongly recommended, especially for anyone bored with the usual vampire portrayals!

Have you read any of Barbara Hambly’s books?


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