Apparently, I’m on a bit of a vampire kick at the moment, eh? The truth of the matter is that I had planned the back-to-back vamp-a-thon I just completed, but I had no intention of reading anything else. Then, during a recent stroll through the local library, I stumbled across John Marks’ Fangland. I’d never heard of it before but the cover art was sparse and striking and…well, yeah, I’m in a bit of a bloodsucking mindset right now.
Do with that statement whatever you will, denizens.
I admittedly had trepidation when I first started reading this novel. I’m still feeling the rush of rage through my veins that yet another book has besmirched the darkness of the original Dracula. The fact that it was Stoker’s own kin makes the rage that much brighter. Was this going to be yet another book that devolved into ridiculous notions of vampire romanticism and eroticism? Or would we finally get this bloody bullet train back on track?
Oh, denizens. This story is dark…dark as tumbling untethered and unlit into the Mariana Trench. In some ways, I think this might actually be a darker story than even Bram Stoker imagined for our vicious immortals. Marks is deliciously diabolical as he spins a tale that is both respectful of the original novel and more than ready to push beyond the limits of the original’s boundaries. He also shows a level of deference to the original text that delighted me immensely. His story unfolds in a modern update to Stoker’s epistolary telling, through e-mails, diaries, newspaper clippings, and various other first-person accounts. Just as with Stoker’s story, this approach is almost purely subjective, leaving us with that same sense of uncertainty regarding whether what we are reading is to be believed or filed away as some form of communally shared mental breakdown.
Plus, he named his heroine Evangeline Harker, which I admit was what ultimately convinced me to check out this book after the cover first hooked me. Once I dove into the novel, I found other characters who obviously fed upon the legacy of predecessors such as Van Helsing, Lucy Westenra, and Renfield in different and familiar ways.
I’m not going to state here that this is a perfect tale. There are admittedly several aspects that I either found uninteresting or unpleasant. I’m still not all that comfortable with the events of September 11, 2001, being used as a means of propelling along fictional storylines. However, Marks uses the memory of that and other modern and historical atrocities to great effect and in such a way that works to strengthen the impact of his tale. It’s also part of the revelation of who and what Marks’ vampire is, and is ultimately the moment in which I felt that Marks surpassed Stoker in dark imaginings.
For full disclosure, Marks does use sex in this novel, but in its basest, darkest form. These characters wield sex with bleak precision for sinister purposes. There is no sparkly sexeh time here. There is, however, evisceration, immolation, desecration, mutilation, exsanguination, exploitation, and a whole lot of mental deterioration all across the board.
This story is a hot, crazy mess, denizens, and it drags you bleeding and sore over its twisted remains at discomfiting speeds. You might not like where it takes you, but it’s one hell of a ride.
An interesting side note that I discovered while looking for a cover image is that, apparently, John Carpenter was slated to direct the movie version of this novel back in 2007. There was even talk of Hilary Swank being cast as Evangeline Harker. I’m not sure what happened, although it looks like the writer strike that year derailed these plans. Neither Carpenter nor Swank is still attached to the project; rumor now has it that Wes Craven might be directing it. I’m on board for that. I’d rather see his take on this tale than watch him waste his time on another Scream.
Final Verdict: If you prefer sinister vampire mythology over sparkly treacle, then you might be in the market for just this novel. I’ve returned the library copy I had, but I do believe I will be adding this to my wish list for future acquisition.