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Darkly Dreaming by Chloe Hammond

Darkly Dreaming by Chloe Hammond
3.5
Book Name: Darkly Dreaming
Author: Chloe Hammond
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Paranormal Romance / Horror
Release Date: October 31, 2015

This is a book about vampires, about becoming one and subsequently coping with the changes that being a fatal predator of the night brings (i.e. expect a high body-count). It’s also about the healing power of friendship, about marrying the wrong person, regrets, living life through fantasies and all the different ways that human beings can hurt each other. Also romance; hot-blooded, fully-described romance featuring molten wombs, turgid members and a gorgeous, bossy alpha-male who wavers between urgent passion and complete emotional unavailability.

That being said, forget the sweet tragedy of first love and all of the angsting about virginity which you get in some vampire franchises. The protagonists of Darkly Dreaming are in their 40s, which for me makes for a nice change from all the adolescent or 20-something vampires and girlfriends-of-vampires you see these days. Though it may be that there’s a big market for dark romances featuring characters that have been around for more than a minute and I just haven’t been exposed to it.

During the introduction, which has very precise and cold third-person descriptions of a career gold-digger, I felt as though the writing in this novel was quite clunky. But once the main plot started up and we switched to first-person narrative the writing really hit its stride and drew me in. I was introduced to the two viewpoint characters, Rae and Layla, who’s thoughts and feelings are funny and tragic and, most importantly, feel like the thoughts and feelings of real people. I was won over. The occasional typo was annoying though, as was the use of the term vampireness at one point.

Overall though, these are minor gripes and I think that the strengths of Hammond’s writing shine through them. With the author speaking through Rae and Layla we get some wonderful phrases that really caught my imagination. As in a marriage which ‘ended as quickly and cleanly as a razor slice’, a car that is like ‘a flying saucer on wheels’ and eyes that look ‘like sunlight on water’.

Hammond’s descriptions of people, in all their little interactions and absurdities, are believable and well put, I could easily imagine her sitting in a bar somewhere, people-watching and capturing these tiny stories for use in her writing. The more intimate and emotional dramas are believable too, raw and full of convincing details, it was no surprise to discover from Hammond’s bio that she was channelling some of her own dark feelings into her writing.

She managed to make me smirk a few times as well. Though I admit that some of that could have been due to shared vocabulary. I realise now that, although I’ve imagined plenty of vampires in a modern British setting, when reading or watching vampire stories I’ve not often encountered bloodsuckers in the company of modern Welsh or English characters who say things like ‘arse’, ‘chunter’ and ‘doing my head in’. (Apart from Lesbian Vampire Killers but to be honest I’ve tried my best to forget that film.) She also fields viewpoint characters who are clearly left-wing and have pretty solid geek-credentials. So I may be predisposed to like and identify with Hammond’s characters.

A few things in this setting didn’t jibe with my preferred style of vampires. I got a distinctive Anne Rice vibe from the description of a vampire’s gifts, powers and weaknesses (for fans of Vampire: The Masquerade or Vampire: The Requiem, think Toreador or Daeva). The enhanced senses are fair enough. But the way that being ‘turned’ can make you into a prettier, taller, cleverer, skinnier, smoother version of yourself with gorgeous eyes and a sexy voice put me off somewhat. Though that was somewhat mitigated when I realised that this process actually makes vampires look a little freakish, their limbs are too long, their eyes are too big, they’re like living dolls or alien predators that copy humanity a little too perfectly. And when I discovered that there were also ugly vampires with big muscles and bony plates in their heads I was more or less won over again.

Anyway, the prettiness thing ties into the story’s themes of escapism, lost youth and the uncomfortable process of aging past your perceived prime. And it would explain why so many vampire franchises have such an array of eerily gorgeous vampire characters, though I prefer the explanation that most vampires go after pretty victims. (Feel free to weigh in with your favourite ‘ugly vampires’ franchise in the comments section, I’ll start you off with The Strain, 40 Days of Night, Nosferatu and An Unattractive Vampire.)

The other sticking point for me is that these vampires are created through a virus rather than through magical curses or supernatural means. I like my fantasy to be magical. But that’s just a personal preference, not a point against the novel.

We do get a fun mixed bag of powers that vary from vampire to vampire, which I always enjoy! Things like rage-induced, spike-covered battle-forms, super-strength, hypnotism, drinking memories along with blood and superhuman allure. Also blood-healing, though that one crops up a little too conveniently for my taste. Between the viral explanation for vampires and the whole ‘getting someone’s memories by drinking their blood’ thing, I wonder if the Underworld series of films has had any influence on Hammond.

Certainly though, this isn’t Vampires-Lite, Hammond doesn’t pull any punches in her setting. Vampires kill people, sometimes cruelly, they don’t always stop at adults either. And one particular human victim is arguably a worse monster than the vampires – a paedophile serial killer who drives his victims to suicide for his own twisted pleasure. I found that and the in-depth descriptions of break-ups, heartbreaks and poisonous relationships, made for quite a brutal read at times. To be fair, I’m used to a steady diet of military, epic, weird and urban fantasy where people might get slaughtered in their thousands, but you don’t usually have to deal with the ugly collapse of a failed marriage. It’s all about what you’re used to, I guess. This book made me feel real feelings and I’m not great at coping with that!

There’s some physical horror here to go with the emotional trauma. These vampires don’t just kiss their victims sweetly on the neck then drain them, painlessly, into oblivion. The crueller ones like to play with their food, it makes the blood taste better. And, while they will bite if they want too, these vampire have long talon-like fingernails which they can use to cut open their victims’ arteries and feed, Byzantium style, like a vampire-bat nuzzling at an open wound. Somehow this method makes me cringe a lot more than the traditional two-fanged kiss approach, kudos to Hammond for that.

Ultimately this book is about grown-up vampires with grown-up problems like paying the bills, divorce, chores, raising enough livestock to live on and hiding the bodies of your human victims (a bit like a distaff and far more serious version of What We Do in the Shadows). If you like in-depth descriptions of relationships, novels based around a strong central friendship, sizzling romance or cruel horror, or if you just want to read a story written by someone who’s clearly thought long and hard about the practicalities of vampire existence, then give this a go. Also if you want to show an indie author some love!

(I don’t know whether I can forgive Hammond for the two characters who use signed Terry Pratchett hardbacks as tables though. Shame! Shame!)

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One Comment

  1. Richard Marpole says:

    I forgot to mention a couple of things in this article.
    First, I received a review copy of the book.
    Second, the book is available in print form from Waterstones, Amazon and the Book depository and there is a Kindle edition too.

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