So, vampires. For a scaredy cat like me, reading horror is a challenge. And when I think of non-sparkly vampires or non-Joss Whedon-esque vampires for that matter, I think of scary guys trying to kill me. So vampires aren't a natural subject for me to be reading about. But at the beginning of this year I decided that I'd challenge myself to reading more outside of my comfort zone, so horror was definitely on the menu. Thus, when I was asked about reviewing Scott G. Mariani's The Cross, I said yes and I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised.
As The Cross is the second book in the Vampire Federation series, after Uprising, I was a bit worried that I wouldn't get some of the continuing storylines, but as it turns out Mariani explains what we need to know, without going into info-dumping mode and I never had the impression that I didn't get what was going on due to not having read the first book. It seems like The Cross picks up almost where it left off and introduces us to our protagonists and villains in several chapters.
The reader is taken along on a whirlwind ride of conspiracies, a hidden world inside the one we know and in a way The Cross reads more like a thriller than a supernatural horror novel. And I really liked that. In this book the vampires aren't the monsters, but they do represent the other, a different outlook on life - or maybe rather undeath - than humanity propagates. Mariani's vampires are actually likeable, even the bad guys, Gabriel Stone and company, are not completely beyond the pale and are quite engaging, but then they aren't the biggest villains, they get trumped.
The truly scary characters aren't even vampires, they're a human and the Übervampyr. And these latter are scary but rather unfathomable. Ash, the human vampire wannabe, is a complete psychopath. He kills without remorse and without seemingly giving it any thought. His acts are made even more monstrous by the way Mariani first lets us encounter his victims. We get glimpses of their lives and their personalities in the moments just before Ash enters those lives to end them for evermore. Their normal, everyday lives emphasise their shocking ends and Ash's inhumanity. In contrast, the Übervampyr are never portrayed as anything other than non-human and while they are scary in their patient and single-minded pursuit of domination over the planet and mankind, it is only when they get their hands on Ash that their cause becomes frighteningly attainable. But for some reason the Übervampyr didn't scare me as much as Ash, maybe because they are portrayed as too scary? In the same way a film can be so bad, that it actually becomes funny, maybe the Übervampyrs are so scary, that they're not scary anymore.
The good guys are an interesting bunch of characters as well. At the start I was a bit nonplussed by Chloe, but once she joins up with our intrepid gang she started to make more sense. My favourite, however, was Joel Solomon. I really liked the way Mariani showed him working through the fact that he had been turned and had now become that which he had previously fought and destroyed. His struggle to keep his humanity and at the same time survive as a vampire is of course an oft used trope, just think of Whedon's Angel or Moonlight's Mick St John. But Mariani gives it a nice spin and I loved that undeath didn't mean immortal, unless you get staked or decapitated, but a vampire can actually starve to something worse than death. Joel's slow acceptance of his new state of being and his almost grudging forgiveness of his partner and the vampire who turned him, Alex Bishop, was well done and didn't seem too easy or painless. Dec's acceptance of Joel's being turned was rather too easy though, but that may be explained by the fact that Dec is a rather naive kid that's had his eyes opened rather abruptly and maybe his gut reactions running ahead of his rational reactions.
Overall, I enjoyed The Cross even more than I had expected too. From the flap text I'd expected an exciting story, but what I got was a thriller I couldn't put down. Mariani's vampires are vampires done right and he's created a great world for his characters to run around in. While The Cross ended on a very satisfying note, the next adventure, or better said, mission is already clear and it promises to be just as suspenseful and engaging as this one. I'm really glad I jumped at the chance to review this book and I look forward to reading more of Scott G. Mariani's work. The Cross was released this past October in the UK and will be realised in the US later in the year. If you like a good vampire story or a gripping thriller be sure to check it out!
This book was sent to me for review by the publisher.