Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Eternal Vigilance review

    Before vampires sparkled, but after they were soulless monsters preying on virginal girls in diaphanous white gowns, there was a time when they were tortured romantic figure. A Byronic hero who did not enjoy the benefits of vampirism but considered it a dread curse.  

    There's still remnants of this figure in modern vampires but their heyday was long ago. A distant mist-enshrouded time when the economy was good, Goths were brooding loners rather than perky scientists, and tabletop gaming was a thriving industry.

    Yes, I speak of the Nineties.

    Despite being written in 2008, Eternal Vigilance by Gabrielle Faust is a throwback (or homage perhaps) to the days of Louis and Lestat. A book which un-ironically talks about how being forced to drink the blood of the living, live forever, and look good doing it isn't quite the blessing True Blood has made it out to be.

    Being as one of my fondest remembered tabletop gaming characters was an 8th Generation Ventrue businessman cursed by his undead existence, I'm predisposed to like a book which radiates sincere love of pre-commercialized modern Gothic romanticism.

    Tynan Llywelyn is an archetypal vampire vampire in many ways. A centuries-old European who, if not a member of the nobility, still oozes Old World style and charisma. Much like the Stuart Townsend version of Lestat, however, immortal life proved too much for him and he decided to opt out.

    Using ritual magic, Tynan bound himself to a sarcophagus and decided to sleep forever. That, alone, tells you something about Tynan's personality as he is not the sort of man who could do anything so mundane as commit suicide. Unfortunately, or fortunately since otherwise there'd be no story, Tynan isn't quite the magician he thinks himself to be. Awakening after a mere century of hibernation, Tynan finds the world has gone to hell. There's robots, cyborgs, and other supertech existing beside grinding poverty and oppression.

    A global human empire formed by renegade scientists, financiers, and other Illuminati types called the Tyst. They have plunged the Earth into a decaying death spiral as their rule is too tyrannical to allow true peace. They're opposed by the Phuree (I believe it's pronounced "Fury"), who are back-to-Earth Luddites who want to destroy modern civilization. 

    Given I'm a die-hard technocrat at heart, I viewed the latter as just as bad if not worse than the former. The wildcard in this conflict is the Council of Elders, vampires who want to preserve their own power at all costs.

    Tynan is a die-hard iconoclast and as much a rebel as Lucifer himself, so one can guess he's not down with any of these groups. I'd tell more but that would spoil the books and I wouldn't deprive readers intrigued by the plot of this novel.

    Weirdly, the setting reminded me a great deal of the Keepers, Hammerites, and Pagans from the Thief franchise. On one hand you have the die-hard champions of progress, the other has ecological terrorists, and you have the Keepers in-between. It's just the Keepers are vampires this time around with Tynan taking the role of Garrett the titular thief. Given I love the Thief franchise, this isn't a bad thing.

    The backstory is a trifle unbelievable with the Tyst starting their rise to power by more-or-less hacking the entire internet. Thankfully, I have a high suspension of disbelief. Gabrielle Faust has taken a great deal of time to develop the world and its mythology, starting from how vampires are created to how their society is set up. It is a moody, decaying, broken world on the verge of a second Dark Age but possibly still salvageable. It, of course, all rests on our hero to save the world or damn it.

    When I mentioned Byronic antiheroes, I could have been very specifically talking about Tynan. Tynan is not a traditional protagonist and has no interest in protecting humanity, stopping the Tyst, helping the Phuree, saving vampire-kind or anything at all other than wallowing in his own guilt over various failures. Many readers will find Tynan a frustrating protagonist due to his refusal to get involved in the plot. He is, in a manner of speaking, an aggressive believer in nothing.

    There's another quality some readers might be wary of and that's the fact the majority of the book takes place in Tynan's head. I don't just mean the book is in 1st person, though it is, but Tynan has a habit of describing everything in long florid passages. He often spends a good deal of chapters ruminating on events more than interacting with his fellow cast members (who he uniformly despises--even his supposed "friends").

    Readers will either find Tynan's constant mix of self-aggrandizement and angst fascinating or annoying. I found myself reminded of Lestat in a cyberpunk setting, so I lean to the former. Gabrielle Faust is nice enough to remember Tynan's attitude is irritating to others, though, and the times when characters call him on it are always amusing. I'm reminded of managers who have to deal with particularly troublesome rock stars.

    In conclusion, Eternal Vigilance is a callback to "traditional" Goth storytelling and attitudes. Had Brandon Lee not had his life so tragically had his life cut short, he was the sort of fellow who'd play an excellent Tynan. If this is your cup of tea, I heartily recommend Eternal Vigilance. If you are put off by almost Lovecraftian-levels of poetic writing or heroes who embrace the punk element of Gothic Punk hard then consider yourself warned.


  1. After the horrors of the 20th century, even WWI would probably be more than enough, I find anybody who would want to be immortal a little cracked in the head. Anybody who is and enjoys completely insane.

    1. A fairly good rebuttal to the benefits of immortality.