In this supernaturally imbued novel, a centuries-old vampire develops a rapport with a terminally ill girl who has the ability to see the evil in people.
Yelena Solodnikova needs blood for sustenance. It’s been years since her love (and the vampire who turned her), Marcel, abandoned her. Subsequent relationships with mortal men have been comparatively shorter as she continues to yearn for Marcel. But it’s Yelena’s distaste for killing that has proved to be her biggest burden. She feels such guilt over the people whose lives she’s taken that she regularly sees a therapist, Dr. Sloane, under the guise of having an eating disorder. One day, Yelena has a chance encounter with a 12-year-old orphan, Orly Bialek, a hospital patient with leukemia who may have mere months to live. The vampire is understandably fascinated by Orly’s drawings—scribbles, really, in which the girl can see others’ atrocious acts or desires. Later, at a special gallery, Yelena gets her hands on several of Orly’s scribbles, complete with corresponding names and graphic details of each person’s deeds. Now Yelena can feed and kill guilt-free, as the list includes a con artist, a rapist, and a serial killer. Meanwhile, she grows close to Orly and entertains the idea of fostering or even adopting her. But Yelena is once again distressed when debating whether she should make Orly a vampire; it may save the girl’s life, but could also afflict her with the same torment that has saddled Yelena for the longest time.
Despite the vampire-laden plot, Tomoguchi’s (The Dead Girl I Like Heart and Stuff, 2015, etc.) character-driven story zeros in on the grounded and often bewildering human element. The mother-daughter dynamic, for one, is prevalent throughout. Neither Yelena nor Orly has a family, so their evolving connection is both convincing and endearing. But it’s a closer examination of various characters that truly fortifies the novel. Orly is initially terrified of Yelena, as her scribbled portrait of the vampire shows the girl a killer. Yelena’s vamp best friend, Hisato, acts as a constant reminder of her nature; he joins her as she takes out baddies but has no qualms about murdering innocents (for example, potential witnesses). Even more profound are the villains marked for death who, as it happens, are just as hard to read as Orly’s scribblings. Supernatural aspects are treated pragmatically; Orly’s ability is more a talent than a power. In the same vein, immortal Yelena can die if her head is severed, a staple of vampire lore. This flaw ultimately makes her vulnerable to a serial killer who has an affinity for beheadings. Tomoguchi tackles fairly dark subject matter, from domestic abuse to child molestation. Fortunately, the few instances of humor are vampire-related: When Yelena asks Orly whether she’d like anything to drink, the girl responds, “You have stuff that’s not blood?” The book’s latter half features surprising plot turns while the overall story, even at its gloomiest, remains enthralling. There’s a definite finality to the ending and, as this is part of a planned series, a few unresolved issues as well.
A traditional vampire tale with an emphatic emotional core.