In another review, not long ago, I said that we were being buried beneath a wave of books about vampires. Well here comes one more wave.
The Kindred of Darkness by Barbara Hambley is the fifth novel in a series featuring James and Lydia Asher. Set at the end of the Victorian era the books deal with Professor Asher, of Oxford, and of late in Service to the Crown in the Great Game, and his scholarly wife Lydia, whose lives have become entangled with vampires who exist in the fringes and shadows of society. This novel is the first of the series that I have read, and as such I must first set out by saying that it stood on its own fairly well although at times I was a bit lost by all of the ancillary characters of little import who seem to be treated as familiar. In terms of plot and the main characters Ms. Hambley did a strong job in establishing the book and I rarely felt at ends.
The book deals with the kidnapping of the Asher's daughter, Miranda, and her nanny, by the Master Vampire of London, one Grippen. It happens while James is away lecturing on the Continent and Lydia must deal with this on her own, but not for long.
Not long after Grippen reveals why he has kidnapped their daughter, and what he wants from Lydia, help comes first in the form of a Spanish vampire who is a friend of the Asher's, the dashing Don Simon Ysidro, then finally in James himself. After that the book is a strong exercise in suspense as the Asher’s try to find their daughter by tracking down two different vampires. They do this through various means of old-fashioned spy craft and also through the tangled web of High Society, as one of the undead that they seek is planning to undermine the wedding of one of Lydia's acquaintances. The Society storyline is the least successful because of a surfeit of rather colorless characters that muddy the storyline, and Ms Hambley further slows it down by tossing in handfuls of well-researched but ultimately unimportant minutiae. When the Asher’s are on the case however tracking the Vampires and their human accomplices, the narrative is taut and filled with action.
None of the villains are particularly vivid, but Don Ysidro and James are sturdy. Lydia is the real star of the book, intelligent and finely drawn, she is a contradiction; a woman of her time who rebels against the conventions she is forced to live by to keep from being more of an outcast than she already is, all for the sake of her husband and daughter. The pace of the book is deliberate at first, then after the arrival of James, begins to pick up momentum and speed. The vampires, even Don Ysidro, are rather chilling , heartless creatures, who make no bones about the death they must deal in order to survive. There are some nice scholarly twists and turns, as the desperate parents much negotiate their way through this tangled skein using the tools of espionage, scholarship, and connections to society. Also Ms Hambley did a good job in surprising me with some well-timed revelations about some of the supporting characters, giving them depth as the story rushed on, and saving them from being one-dimensional clichés.
The writing was steady, although now and again Ms Hambley got so tied up with interior monologues in the midst of narration that I thought that she might be trying to circumnavigate language instead of using it, but for the most part I enjoyed this book. I might just start liking vampires after all.