by Barbara Hambly
Review by Gayle Surrette
Berkley Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425217894
Date: 02 October 2007 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
[Editor's Note: This is one of those books that adds to the legend. We're rerunning our review from our January 2007 issue.]
Ever since Bram Stoker published Dracula in 1897, people have been terrified and fascinated by the idea of vampires. I'd guess there would be very few people in the English-speaking world who haven't at least heard of Dracula or vampires. Among our readers, I'd say everyone at least has an acquaintance with the book and all its many permutations: plays, movies, graphic novels, comics, and games. But, while there is a graphic novel, a comic, and a medical syndrome named for him, fewer people have spent time thinking about the character of R.H. Renfield. Luckily, for us, Barbara Hambly has; and in Renfield: Slave of Dracula, she's managed to make Renfield a truly three-dimensional character with a history and a reason for his tortured and torturing soul.
Renfield is given the status of a minor character in Bram Stoker's Dracula. He's already a patient in John Seward's Rushbrook House. It's Renfield who gives Dracula entry into the asylum in order to attack Mina Harker. Renfield tries at the last to stand up to Dracula and for that he is killed. That's the basics of the original stories dealings with Renfield.
Hambly, by telling the story from Renfield's point of view, manages to give us the flavor of his delusion (no pun intended) and fill in for us, the reader, his background and recent past. Then she deftly tells the story by interspersing those parts of the original text that are necessary for the story but sticking as close as possible to Renfield's knowledge of events as possible. She then manages to continue with placing Renfield in the gaps in the story where he would fit without making any changes to the original.
Renfield is indeed a tortured individual. We actually can come to understand his situation even though we may not approve of it or his actions. This is a book of redemption and change. Is long life worth it if each day is torture? Does being a vampire necessarily make one a monster? Does this book answer these questions? No, instead it gives you some information and leaves you to make your own conclusions.
I was pleased to have a chance to visit a familiar tale and see it from a new vantage point. I actually went back to my own copy of Dracula a couple of times to refresh my memory of a scene or incident. This is definitely a book for anyone who is interested in a new slant on an old tale or anyone who just enjoys a good tale well told.