As Yugoslavia disintegrates, an American bent on investigating Balkan vampire folklore becomes caught up in evils both supernatural and political.
In Yugoslavia on a scholarship to study Balkan ethnography, graduate student Steven Roberts finds his research being directed toward vampires, which have a rich folkloric history in the region. Vampires, he learns, aren’t what Bram Stoker, Anne Rice and Hollywood said they were. For example, the folklore suggests that only newly made vampires are nocturnal, meaning that older ones should be harder to spot—though one of Steven’s professors notes that in 1992 Yugoslavia, it might be hard to tell the vampires from the thugs: “Haven’t you seen all the black jeeps and limousines with darkened windows? If I were a vampire, that would be the ideal way to travel around during daytime.” As Steven delves further into crumbling archives and into an underground labyrinth hiding vampiric secrets, he and his friends get caught up in a perilous confluence of events. Steven must confront his past, his loss of faith and how he might regain it, and his attraction to a mysterious, dangerous woman. He learns the truth about his professor Slatina, who in turn faces a crucial decision that will affect not just vampires but all of the Balkans. In the glut of vampire-themed novels now on the market, Lyon’s debut stands out for its skillful integration of authentic, fascinating myth with the political events of the early 1990s. Linking the horror of the supernatural with the horror of human violence is an inspired idea, and Lyon executes it perfectly. He evidently knows the area, its history and its languages, giving the reader vivid details not just of long-ago history but of the 1990s Balkans: socialist-chic shabbiness, ever-present cigarette smoke, the way every Serb that Steven meets has a cousin in Chicago, and the corrupt Milosevic government. “Slobo keeps prices low so people won’t complain,” a character nicknamed Bear says. “It’s okay if we don’t have gas, just so the gas we don’t have is cheap.” Steven can be irritatingly slow on the uptake, and the ending is less satisfying than it could be, since Lyon is apparently leaving room for sequels. Still, it’s a highly promising start with an engaging cast of characters.
No capes, no glitter: a vampire novel for readers who value sturdy mythology and a sophisticated understanding of history, along with warmblooded, human connections.