Greetings, dear readers. I stand (well, okay, sit) before you today with a difficult mission: I have to figure out how to sum up my feelings about Charles O’Keefe’s “The Newfoundland Vampire” in 500 words or so. I’m just not sure that I can do it. You see, this is, hands-down, one of the most difficult reviews that I’ve ever written. Why? Well, let’s talk about why.
Mr. O’Keefe contacted me requesting the review, as you really should do when you’re trying to build word-of-mouth. While I love helping fellow writers, I have reservations for taking these on, for lots of different reasons. I typically decline, unless the subject matter sounds interesting to me. When the author contacted me, I Googled up a description. Okay, sure, I was a little burned out on vampires, but I figured this one had an interesting premise, which I’ll get to in a bit. Bottom line, deciding to take on the challenge of reviewing a new author is tough – you worry about saying the wrong thing and screwing up someone’s career.
This sounds gloom and doom, I know, but bear with me. It’s not as bad as it sounds, hence my difficulties. I tell you these things because this novel, and my feelings about it, are so complicated. Here, then, a brief plot summary: Everyday Geek, Dungeons and Dragons aficionado, and aspiring swordsman Joseph O’Reilly meets a beautiful redhead, Cassandra Snow, who just so happens to be a vampire. A romance of questionable consent follows, and she turns him into a vampire himself. Slight catch in their love story, though, as Cassandra has a sadistic ex-husband who returns every few years to torment her and kill whatever lover she’s turned as an elaborate revenge for her part in his initial death. Bad news for Joseph, right? Well, remember how he was an aspiring swordsman? That’s significant. Along the way, Joseph gains a better understanding of his powers and even begins to take on a superhero bent as a result of his vegetarianism when he was human (trust me, this makes sense in the book and is actually quite clever).
Come on, that’s a pretty great premise. Lots of dramatic potential with Cassandra’s questionable seduction of an innocent and how she reconciles that with her own place as a sadist’s target. The vampire superhero idea is great. It’s been done before, sure, but O’Keefe’s idea on just how he decides to follow that path works really well.
I also have to admit that the geek wish-fulfillment part with the sexy redheaded vampire did a decent job explaining why Twilight appeals to a certain woman. The light-bulb definitely went off in my head, because I found myself drawn to it despite myself.
On that note, let’s discuss the things that this novel does well:
- The superhero subplot works very, very well. I loved that portion of the novel and found myself riveted.
- Joseph feels like a genuine person; I became invested in him fairly quickly, though that could have been his similarity to some of my own experiences.
- The early seduction-cum-romance touches a chord in a certain type of man, and is handled fairly well.
- The vampire hierarchy is interesting.
- A novel take on the issue of a vampire’s needs; at one point, Joseph craves salt water, which makes a lot of sense, but I had never even considered it.
- The vegetarian/morality angle is pretty interesting and its premise alone could support an entire novel.
That last point, unfortunately, brings me to my biggest complaint about the novel: it can’t quite decide what it wants to be. At the outset, it’s something of a tragic romance that feels like it’s going in the wrong direction while the protagonist is too blinded by his own lust to see. Somewhere in there Joseph realizes that he’s being used, but that doesn’t really go anywhere. It then switches gears to an action novel, with Cassandra training him for a confrontation with her ex-husband John Snow. Soon it develops into a superhero/mystery novel, with the two on the trail of a killer. Unfortunately, that resolves way too quickly right before the novel becomes the action story again, with the showdown with the ex-husband.
It makes for a somewhat herky-jerky experience, and I just can’t help but feel that each of these sections could have been great novels on their own.
And boy, is that the thing about this novel. There’s a whole lot to like, yet it can also be a frustrating experience, with the fleeting superhero angle and the dropped issue of Cassandra’s powers coming into Joseph’s seduction. Maybe both of those will become more important in the sequel? I sure hope so, and I am actually looking forward to the sequel, to see where he goes with this. O’Keefe has a great deal of potential that just needs to be harnessed.
I also don’t really nitpick this stuff, but there were enough grammatical issues that it kind of took me out at spots. That’s something that’s quite easily fixed, though.
So where does that leave me? Well over my word count, for one! I told you this wouldn’t be easy. If I had to summarize The Newfoundland Vampire, I’d say that this is a flawed novel with fantastic ideas, some good characters, and okay execution. It bears some signs of being the author’s first work, which always presents the double-edged sword of having lots of novel ideas but some issues in corralling them all into a meaningful shape. He has me hooked, though, and I’ll be back for the inevitable sequel. Call it three stars and a day.