Vampyrrhic Rites by Simon Clark
Hodder & Stoughton (UK) HCVR: ISBN 0340819405 PubDate: 07/01/03
Review by John Berlyne
504 pgs. List price $ 18.99
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A tricky one, this. The latest from Brit Horror writer Simon Clark is a follow up to his 1998 frightener, Vampyrrhic, a title which I had not read before getting to grips with this new one. Had I done so, it may well have afforded me a better impression of this direct sequel, however, if that first novel was the template for this one – and I suspect it was – I must say, I’m rather relieved at having saved myself the bother.
To be fair, Clark has a loyal following and many a reader enjoys his work. At the same time Vampyrrhic Rites, to my mind, suffers from some of the very same problems I identified in my review of Clark’s previous novel, The Night Of The Triffids. [ADD LINK TO MY REVIEW]
Three years ago, David Leppington and various companions battled an outbreak of Vampires that sprung up in his home town (also called Leppington) on the North Yorkshire coast, a stone’s throw away from Whitby - famous, of course, as the port at which Dracula landed in the Stoker classic. Leppington & co beat the bad guys and all was well… or was it? It would seem not! Something ugly is rising from the local lake and various townsfolk and visitors are going missing. The protagonists are drawn together once again to pitch battle against the bloodsuckers and… well, that’s about it, really.
In a slow, perhaps deliberately slow build up, we catch up with each of the protagonists from Vampyrrhic (including the dead one) as the set up is laid out for us. We meet some new folks too and in the process, the reader is bounced around character view points in a clunky and uneven fashion. Thus the building blocks of the plot are laboriously laid on top of one another rather than smoothly arranged in order to be discovered by the reader. In the midst of this, Clark comes across as a curiously old fashioned writer. His style evokes that of British horror in the 70’s and 80’s – of James Herbert and Ramsey Campbell, but whereas those two particular writers have adapted and evolved their styles somewhat to compete with the new wave of Brit horror - the Tim Lebbons, the Michael Marshall Smiths, the China Miévilles – it seems to me Clark remains firmly “old school”. One could argue that his writing is very much “in the tradition of…” but I find it somewhat leaden and staid. This manifests itself mostly in the character dialogue. I just don’t feel his contemporary characters speak like contemporary character ought to speak. Indeed do speak. Their voices are not those of real people, their choice of words is dated and self conscious and the net result is that as a reader, I didn’t believe in the people of this story and therefore, by default, I didn’t believe in the story itself.
This isn’t helped by certain stylistic ticks that repeat themselves throughout the Vampyrrhic Rites. Sometimes when one is reading a story, one becomes aware of repeated favourite words or phrases and this distracts and detracts. I didn’t need to be reminded more than six times that Electra’s hair is “gunmetal blue-black”, or for that matter that David Leppington is called David Leppington. “David” will do, as will “Leppington”, but I don’t need his full nomenclature repeated ad nauseum. These things make one aware of the writing rather than the story and it seems strange to me that such things are not noticed and remedied before publication by either the author or the editor. Likewise, it’s odd that that the spelling “vampyrrhic” is used in the title, but throughout the novel it is “vampiric”. What’s all that about?
Clarks vampires are the remnants of old Viking invaders, tied in (and none too clearly at that) with the Viking deities of legend. But we are dealing with gods of the lower case “g” – limited and fallible (and therefore not really much use as far as gods go) and the threat posed by these bad guys – even though Clark tells us that they intend to take over the world – remain curiously unthreatening and localised. Perhaps this is due to the apparent ease with which they are (inevitably) bested – some hitherto unmentioned contrivance or other spontaneously appears in the story and that’s that. The effect is exacerbated by the weak decisions of the characters, who lean in one direction one moment and under the supposed malign influence of the vampires, seem to change their mind every page or so. I just didn’t buy it. Sorry!
If you liked Vampyrrhic, you’ll probably enjoy this one – but for me, Vampyrrhic Rites just doesn’t ring true. Lumpy and histrionic, this is a vampire story that really lacks teeth.