By Nat Kittyface | Books | February 11, 2011 |
By Nat Kittyface | Books | February 11, 2011 |
One day in the distant past (not that distant), a little boy in Japan saw his very first Hammer horror film, and he loved everything about it. When he grew up and entered the magical 80s, he decided to bring that flavor to the Japanese reading public, but with his own distinct flair. Out of what I can only assume was some kind of drunken late-night movie marathon came the Vampire Hunter D book series, and if your only exposure to that name has been through the anime that used to air on TBS late at night in the 90s, boy are you missing out.
Vampire Hunter D is the bipolar love-child of Mad Max, Hammer horror, and lone cowboy movies, and it WORKS. Kikuchi makes an incredibly imaginative and fantastic world that mirrors things you’ve seen before and yet retains its uniqueness. I love these books despite their few flaws (I’ll get to that in a minute), and you’d hope so, since I’m on book 6 and all.
Since each novel can really stand on its own, spoilers aren’t much of a problem. The books are set in the distant future, long after two major events have happened: 1) A nuclear holocaust destroys most of the planet and 2) the vampires decided that they’d had enough of our shit and rose up and took over what was left. Under the reign of the vampires, the world very briefly became a utopia of science and the arts - at least for vampires, as humans were mostly relegated to food supply or slavery. Since vampire scientists had an eternal lifespan, huge leaps were made in the sciences, and genetic engineering became commonplace. The vampires started creating artificial lifeforms, some for practicality or experimentation (all kinds of bizarre mutant critters) and some just for kicks (like unicorns and werewolves), and messing around with human genetics too, not to mention all kinds of experiments in just about every field.
And then they disappeared almost overnight. The large cities were left mostly intact, and humans were able to pick up the pieces and figure out the technology, but the rest of the world consists of The Frontier, which is a bizarre mix of future tech and barebones Old West living. Life on the Frontier is harsh, and the Nobility still lurk in musty old castles somewhere on the outskirts, terrorizing and occasionally abducting villagers. People have been genetically altered (though they don’t know it), rendering them physically incapable of learning or retaining what a vampire’s weaknesses are, save for daylight and running water. Vampires and all the other monsters terrorizing the Frontier give rise to Hunters: merciless soldiers for hire who go from town to town killing them - they’re a necessary evil, because they’re usually barbaric assholes who cause as much trouble as they fix, but they do the job they’re paid for. The best vampire hunters are dhampirs, children of vampires and humans. They’re not uncommon, and their in-between-ness and heightened abilities make them perfectly suited to hunt vampires, but because most dhampirs sooner or later succumb to the vampire half of their nature and start killing people, they’re treated like crap, paid quickly, and god help them if they don’t get the fuck out of town as soon as they’re done. D, however, is something a bit more than the norm, though each book hints only slightly more at how and why, and D’s exact nature - as well as what he’s ultimately looking for - is the greater mystery that ties these books together.
In each novel, D comes to a new frontier town, either by chance or - more often - because he’s been called there for work. Tall, dark, silent, and dressed all in black (and gorgeous, as all vampire offspring are), he inevitably attracts all kinds of attention; men hate him, women swoon, and there’s almost always a plucky young girl who wants so much more than this provincial life. There’s almost always a Noble involved somehow, and D inevitably fights his way through a vast array of fantastical creatures before revealing the evil (or sometimes not so evil) plot at hand and saving the day. Nobody in town much likes strangers, though, especially not strangers who make them look bad by comparison, and more often than not, D spends as much time dealing with hatred and prejudice against him as he does doing the damn job they’ve paid him to do. He’s a tragic figure with no home, but he barely talks and he never complains, so he’s very The Man With No Name about it.
In THIS particular book, D ends up crossing an uncrossable, deadly desert, and by chance he ends up in company with an old woman whose specialty is finding children abducted by vampires and returning them home (even though most are eventually killed because the distrust of anyone touched by the Nobility is just too strong) and her latest recovery, a young girl named Tae, and two Hunter brothers, one brash and macho, the other quiet and thoughtful. Stuff happens, and they find out that the desert is a lot more than it seems, as is Tae - and that’s really all I can describe about this particular book without giving anything away.
It wasn’t my favorite book, but it was a good continuation of the series, and a little more is revealed about what D’s looking for in the long run; there’s also a lot of fascinating world-building, like more information on some of the vampires’ experiments and technology, and the depressing revelation that nobody’s actually seen the sea because you have to go so far through monster-infested wilderness to reach it that nobody can make it there. My only two complaints about ALL the Vampire Hunter D books are these: I don’t need to hear how pretty D is 5 times a chapter (usually accompanied by women drooling and swooning and men going a little gay until he leaves the room), and you don’t need to constantly remind me how hard life on the Frontier is through the regular use of rapey overtones. I GET IT. For people with trigger issues, there’s really only one book where it’s BAD bad - most of the time there’s a little bit of groping and threatening and then something interrupts the would-be rapist, or it’s past rapes mentioned after the fact - but still, I hate the notion that men as a whole just stop giving a shit about women’s well-being just because life is hard. Like animal torture/killing, rape is a “Look! Life is hard!” crutch that too many writers, in both novel and film, lean on.
For more of Nat Kittyface’s reviews, check out her blog, All guilt is relative. Loyalty counts.
This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.