Genre Horror Publisher Ballantine Year Published 1988 Review Posted on 12/27/2004 Reviewer Rating
9 out of 10
Those Who Hunt the Night, by Barbara Hambly
Reviewed by Pete S. Allen
If you've read this book, why not
Wait, wait, keep reading. I know you're sick of vampires. I'm sick of vampires. But this book, despite the title, isn't about vampires. Back before vampires inundated the media, marketplace, and oh yeah, the nightclubs, Barbara Hambly wrote a book called Those Who Hunt the Night. This wasn't pre-Anne Rice, just pre-Anne Rice groupies.
Essentially the plot is this -- in turn-of-the-century (the last one) London, somebody's going around killing the vampires. Worse, they're killing the vampires that nobody believes in, in ways that nobody's supposed to remember. In other words, the ones that work. Naturally this bothers the London vampires, so one of them, Don Simon Xavier Christian Morado de la Cadena-Ysidro (Don Ysidro will do) goes and hires someone to do what they can't -- hunt for the killer in the daylight. The man he hires is one James Asher, Oxford historian and linguist, recently retired from her Majesty's Secret Service. The price agreed upon is the life of Asher's wife, Lydia.
And the chase is on.
As I said, the book is not about Ysidro, or any of the other vampires we meet. It's told from Asher's, and to a lesser extent Lydia's, points of view and these are worthwhile characters to follow around.
Asher has some issues with his former employer and the kind of work he has done in the past. The straw that caused his retirement is revisited on numerous occasions, and the habit he has of instantly identifying the dialect of anyone he meets is intriguing.
Lydia is a rarity in Victorian England -- she is a medical doctor, who does research instead of maintaining a practice. She becomes involved in the case as Asher's researcher, and her fear when she finally sees a vampire is replaced by her fascination with their biology.
One could read the book simply for the well-executed spy story, mixed with the horror of the Undead, but for the reader who likes to dig deeper, an interesting parallel is drawn between Asher and the vampires: Asher and Ysidro are both civilised killers, who have arguably valid reasons for the crimes they commit. Asher realises this, and it makes him, if not sympathetic, at least understanding of his employer. As well, there are glimpses of the development of some of the ideals -- the suffrage movement and women's rights, advancing sciences, industrial growth -- that we now take for granted. But don't let this fool you -- the story has meat.
Oh, one more thing -- ignore the cover art. Remember, it was 1988, and Ysidro looks pretty silly with the fangs. Art bad, book good.