★ ★ ★ ★
There’s nothing like a soupcon of horror to keep you awake during a long, slow night, and Those Who Hunt the Night did the trick. It’s been a long time since I was fascinated by vampires, but Hambly goes old-school with this one (or perhaps it was ‘current-school,’ considering it won a Locus Award for horror in 1989) and imbues her Victorian tale with classic gothic horror themes.
Archer is an Oxford don who has done a little extra-curricular work for Queen and country under the guise of scholarly research in linguistics. He is returning home quite late one late one night when he has a sense of unease. Breaking into his own house, he discovers servants and wife asleep as if drugged, and a sinister visitor who persuades him to take on a very special investigation. He resentfully agrees, and he and his wife put their best powers of deduction to use in solving a series of murders for some unsavory clients.
Truthfully, Hambly surprised me; the Victorian time period isn’t one I’m naturally drawn too, but this is a captivating mix of mystery with old-school vampire, updated for the modern reader without too much compromise. There’s also an interesting exploration about the physical and psychic aspects of vampires that fits nicely with the time period’s gradual shift from spiritualism into rationalism. The language pleasantly complex, the characters appropriate for their time with a slightly more modern sensibility towards women and class issues. Hambly puts her Master’s in history to good use, creating a setting that feels realistic without overtaking the story (cough, cough– The Diviners).
“The train came puffing in, steam roiling out to blend with the fog, while vague forms hurried onto the platform to meet it. A girl with a face like a pound of dough sprang from a third-clss carriage as it slowed, into the arms of a podgy young man in a shop clerk’s worn old coat, and they embraced with the delighted fervor of a knight welcoming his princess bride.”
The writing reminds me of the writing of Martha Wells; they both develop a combination of action, description, dialogue and monologue that completely works for me. It’s probably worth noting that Hambly indulges in some period-like descriptive prose; one review I read complained about overblown similes. However, as I’ve been dipping my toes in Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), I’ll note that there’s purple, and then there’s aubergine, and Hambly’s prose feels rather tongue-in-cheek at worst, and delightfully evocative at best.
“The pale eyes held his. There was no shift in them, no expression; only a remote calm, centuries deep… There was something almost hypnotic in that stillness, without nervous gesture, almost completely without movement, as if that had all been rinsed from him by the passing moons of time.”
This turned out to be one of those books where the farther in I read, the faster, and the more impatient I became with interruptions. (For heaven’s sake, people–can’t you see I’m reading here? Don’t bother me for anything less than an earthquake). I recommend it if you are a fan of any of its overlapping genres.