Thursday, January 18, 2007

'The Rest Falls Away' by Colleen Gleason

ISBN: 0451220072
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 368pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Price: $6.99

I have just finished reading The Rest Falls Away Colleen Gleason’s first book in The Gardella Vampire Chronicles and I am already waiting impatiently for her second book Rises The Night, which is coming out in June of this year.

Victoria Gardella Grantworth wakes from a nightmare in which she is being chased by a red-eyed man through the woods. This is not the first dream she has had like this and although she doesn’t realize it, it will soon become a reality because Victoria is the newest and one of the few female Venator’s of her family. Soon she will begin learning the traditions of the vampire hunters that have been passed down for generations.

In 19th-century London, it isn’t the easiest thing to handle when you are on the verge of your social debut. But Victoria should be able to handle finding a wealthy husband by day and staking vampires by night, right? Sure she can and along the way she will learn to hide stakes in the most unexpected places.

Victoria is trained by her Aunt Eustacia and her Aunt’s companion of many years Kritanu, who is very skilled in ancient fighting styles. Victoria also meets Maximilian Pesaro, fondly known as Max. Max is also a Venator, although not by blood. They butt heads immediately and their conversations, along with the sexual tension, go a long way in livening up the book.

Our heroine, however, has also caught the eye of the social catch of the season, the Marquess of Rockley. When Rockley, who also happens to be a childhood acquaintance, proposes Victoria, must make a choice between her destiny and the desires of her heart.

Meanwhile Lilith, Queen of the Undead, has moved to London looking for the Book of Antwartha. This ancient text from India will give her the power to raise undead armies. Victoria goes to the Silver Chalice, a neutral hang-out for the vampires and humans, to learn where the book might be. There she meets Sebastian Vioget, who graciously decides to help her but only for a fee.

Victoria is the perfect heroine. Smart, sexy, and tough while remaining vulnerable, she is the reason I love this book. Secretly I’m dying to be her, including wearing the fancy dresses and kicking undead butt. Even though Victoria is a very modern heroine for the time period, she works well with the rest of the storyline. Max is another great character, with brooding good looks and full of mystery; there is a lot in his past that I will enjoy reading about in future novels. Then there is Sebastian, but trust me you will want to read about him for yourself.

The Rest Falls Away is a good start to what I’m sure will be a great series. Being set in 19th-century England a lot of people will want to compare it in general terms to Jane Austen, I’ve already seen several reviews online claiming this to be a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Pride and Prejudice. I can see exactly where those reviews are coming from. There are some comic social scenes in this book that reminded me very much of Jane Austen given a modern twist. But in the end it is completely the creation of Colleen Gleason with twists and emotional hurtles all her own.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

'The Painted Veil' by W. Somerset Maugham

ISBN: 1400034213
Format: Paperback, 256pp
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Price: $13.95

“… the painted veil which those who live call Life.”

I saw a preview last week for Edward Norton's new movie, The Painted Veil. The movie looks fantastic, a sweeping romantic period piece. a type that I just love. Then the next day at a favorite bookstore sitting there on the table in front of me was a copy of The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham, first published in 1925.

Maugham (1874-1965) was an English playwright, novelist and short story writer who traveled the globe using the exotic locals as backdrops to his work. This was the 2004 reprint, the cover a beautiful painting of a woman holding a bird cage casually in one hand. There is something so captivating about her face, especially the look in her eyes. So I bought the book.

The Painted Veil is not only a story of Kitty and her ill-fated marriage to bacteriologist Walter Fane, but of her own personal growth as a human being. Kitty was raised by her mother to do one thing in life, marry young and well. When her younger sister announces her own engagement Kitty, who has already passed up several offers of marriage, accepts Walter Fane’s proposal for her own very selfish reasons.

Right from the start you know that Kitty does not love Walter, barely even likes him, and views him as a way of escape from the thought of being an old maid, as well as her mother's bitterness. Kitty is selfish and often unkind to the man so madly in love with her. She pities Walter and often despises him because of his love for her.

But still Kitty moves from England to the British colony of Hong Kong, where she soaks up the attention that is given to a new bride. But when the shine starts to wear off and Kitty discovers that being the wife of a bacteriologist isn’t as glamorous as she had hoped she finds other things to occupy her time.

When Walter learns of Kitty’s adulterous affair with Charles Townsend, an official in the Hong Kong colony, he gives her two choices. Kitty can go to Charlie and ask him to divorce his wife to marry her or she can go with Walter into the middle of a cholera epidemic.

In the middle of this epidemic, Kitty finally starts to realize what a good man Walter is. She still does not love him but can see for the perhaps the first time how lucky she is to have someone like him. Kitty begins to view her self differently as well. But Walter, once so madly in love, can not forgive Kitty her sin.

With beautiful China as a backdrop to this story of growth, The Painted Veil is a classic. It is beautifully written, the writing compact but amazingly detailed. Kitty is finely drawn and fully realized, Walter much more distant but still captivating.

The ending, while being satisfying, is the not ending that I hoped for. Desperately I wanted Kitty to find something in Walter to love; I wanted to see their relationship healed. But in the end it is her relationship with her father that is mended and the narrowness of her soul expanded.