Madonna of the Dark, by Elaine Moore

madonna-of-the-dark-by-elaine-moore coverGenre: Horror
Publisher: Authorlink
Published: 1999
Reviewer Rating: threestars
Book Review by Paul Kane

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Now before you get the wrong idea, this is not a book detailing what a certain pop superstar gets up to at night-time. No, as the front cover so emphatically proclaims, this is a vampire novel. And quite a good one it is at that.

The year is 1570 and Count Johann Nikolai Valfrey, whilst visiting the Scottish Highlands, happens upon a woman so captivatingly beautiful he knows he must have her–for all of eternity. She is Victoria MacKay, daughter of a local lord and warrior in her own right. But that’s not all: Victoria can see into the future and the past simply by touching a person, a gift her seer mother bestowed before her death. First Nikolai ingratiates himself by dispatching a rowdy prince with designs on her body, then he sweeps her off her feet, beguiling her and promising her the world. Falling for his charms, she allows herself to become as he is: one of the undead. Forced to drink blood by night and sleep in a coffin filled with earth during the day, experiencing what she calls the “little death”.

And so begins a journey that will take her from her homeland–far away from her beloved brother, Duncan–to the wondrous shores of America three centuries later. Along the way she will make new friends, take new lovers and even create a vampire herself. But she will never find peace, inevitably losing anyone she ever comes to care about (the Count’s silent aide Rodrigo, her Parisian tutor Gascon, Chloe–her maid–Dominie the painter, Felix the boy-servant, the American sailor Jeremiah…). And gradually she discovers what kind of creature Nikolai really is, understanding that she must escape from his clutches in order to survive. In order to control the predatory instincts instilled in her by his bite. But does she succeed, or will Nikolai track down his bride–the one he swears he cannot live without?

Essentially what we have here is a rather polished novel from Elaine Moore, freelance public relations and advertising specialist, published poet and past president of the North Texas Professional Writers Association. Paying homage to Stoker, but closer in style and form to Anne Rice (by way of Gainsborough melodrama and Hammer films), she’s managed to fashion an interesting, elegant and gratifying piece working in an arguably overused sub-genre; no mean feat, I’m sure you’ll agree. Though at times the book reads like a travelogue through the ages (taking in such locations as Paris, Toledo, Algiers, Cairo, Africa, New York and San Francisco), Moore’s attention to detail and historical research make this one history lesson you’ll never forget. Moreover she keeps the action rattling along so swiftly (sometimes skipping over decades in a single paragraph) you won’t have time to get bored.

However, the real triumph of this book has to be her characterization of Victoria. “Every man must worship her in his own way,” says one of her friends near the end; some wish to possess her, others are happy to simply be in her company. But it is her reaction to such reverence that makes the book worthwhile. And you can really empathize with her struggle to fight the darker side of her nature, unwilling to kill for blood and trying to help the poor orphans she finds on the streets of America (it brings a lump to your throat when one starving child dies in her arms). Then there’s Victoria’s relationship with her dead mother and the responsibility that comes with her visions, a power many might think they’d like–until they actually have it.

In addition there are some really nice touches, such as guest appearances from a young Cardinal Richelieu (very tongue-in-cheek), an early Suffragette, a member of the Gideon clan (of Bible fame) and the original Mr. Tiffany of Tiffany’s. Oh, and let us not forget Moore’s eye for the one-liner: “You have already died for me, now live for me!” Or how about vampire Victoria’s righteous indignation at a slave-trader, “The man is inhuman!”. No two ways about it, this lady is a fine writer (and artist too, if her cover illustration is anything to go by). She’s even left the way open for a sequel, which I for one would love to see.

This kind of horror isn’t usually my pint of blood, but after reading Miss Moore’s novel I can definitely see what the appeal might be (although I’m still not quite sure about some of the more, ahem, raunchy bits: “I felt your cold kiss on my fevered brow and extinguished my fiery member in your cool liquid sea.”). If it sounds like your bag, then grab a stake and dive headlong in. If not, give it a whirl anyway. Trust me, you’ll be mad about this Dark Madonna.

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