- FD Gross
Church Mouse: Memoir of a Vampire's Servant - My Review
Occasionally I'll peruse the vampire world by diving into a novel that relates to the children of the night. In this case, Church Mouse, it was an unexpected journey of humans coexisting with vampires. A different angle all together, and one that I found most enjoyable. Here is my latest review...
There is much speculation on the rules and boundaries that make up the vampire world, whether it is through the stories we write, read, create, fantasize, wonder, imagine, fear...dare I say envy? And it should be recognized that R. H. Hale, the creator of this interesting novel, has etched in her own unique way, a new angle that may serve as a first in genre, that many other writers might begin to follow (something like the human version of Interview with a Vampire). With that said, vampires will continue to fascinate humankind as time continue to flow, as it has in the past, present, and future, and so now as we have entered the new future bordering on the cusp of 2020 (has we really reached that far in time already? It still boggles my mind) we explore a new and eclectic world of Church Mouse: Memoirs of a Vampire's Servant.
A clan of three vampires. A heroine of borderline schizophrenia. A narcissistic drug using priest. A group of junkies unable to understand what fear is, blinded by their need for the next hit. Hale covers a vast array of ideas and theories throughout her book, touching on martyr-ism, religion, chivalry, morality, survival, and of course fear. The main character, Rona, is the perfect candidate for the underrated watchdog persona which permeates as the main theme throughout the novel's entirety. Start to finish, the narrator (Rona), conveniently paints the picture of her world growing up, where she now resides in a church (of all places), and the possible future that may be in store for her. She does this so willingly throughout the text, not to just scare you or warn you, but for peace of mind. This is therapy for her, mind you, and what better way to cope then to chronologically set it into a memoir that spans over the course of 25 years (her current age). And such a runaway train it is! With periodical train wrecks here and there, traps made of fractured bridges, and a spattering of brief reprieves that usually end in smoking cigarettes. It IS vampires she's dealing with. Let her smoke. Let her drink wine. And as this novel is of substantial length, there is much to be covered. If you feel by reading on you feel spoiled with information, you are forewarned. However, I don't think much detail will be revealed, only the subtle characteristics that really grabbed my attention.
Oh how the bizarre trio, bizarre love triangle is of those three very different vampires. In the first half of the novel, Hale does an excellent job at not revealing what it is exactly that Rona is dealing with. Shadows moving about the church. Eyes glowing in the dark. You never really know its vampires until you start putting together the trail of bread crumbs Hale conveniently leaves behind for you. She is an expert in this for certain, using paper written notes left on an alter to carry out tasks. Over time, as the vampires Serge, Edith, and Hector make their presence known, slowly but surely, test after test, Rona is brought into the fold to see a world she never knew could exist. Her feelings of fear, terror, and intrigue spark quite often and slowly she begins to trust them, only to betray them, and trust them again. The way the vampires are described in this story is quite beautiful. Hale masterfully crafts scenes of description almost as if it were poetry or a painting. Described in such a way you will never forget and the after thoughts will continue long after you finish the book. Legendary folklore of vampire guidelines are followed somewhat yet artistically modified with good taste which concocts a very old traditional feel to the story. I won't say how old the vampires are, but as you figure it out throughout the story, it will change the way you think about the world now and how we've been getting along after all this time. And out of the three, Serge is by far the most complicated vampire personality I have ever encountered. Bordering on bipolar-ism, rage, and boredom, you can only wonder why the vampire hasn't committed suicide up to this point. But inside all of his drama, a sweet telling side of him eventually surfaces. You just have to wait and wait and wait...for it.
Gothic Architecture and Setting:
As I am a fan of gothic everything, Church Mouse provides your daily intake of architecture, stained glass, archways, stonewalls, crypts, corridors, sarcophagi, tombs, torches, haunted stairwells, cobwebs...the list goes on and this pleases me. Since the story is set in modern times, England, it was quite simple to stick to the feeling of gloom and doom, cold wet weather and damp soil-ridden graveyards. In many ways, this memoir read similar to that of Interview with a Vampire (its hard not to compare vampire stories to this staple in time) but with a humanistic twist. Rona knows she's human, but feels like a ghoul inside. Hardly eating, drinking, exercising. She neglects herself for the service of vampires is high priority. She does smoke a lot. Did I mention that already? Hale also goes into explicit detail covering every minor detail of the church which I appreciated very much. Its parts and history. This was very enjoyable. The church IS Rona's home by the way. I guess it is imperative we know every little detail of that dingy place of worship. Which now leads me to...
The story overall was fantastic, with modern day descriptions of taxis, and drug dealers wanting their fix, and how the underground hierarchy works in the world of darkness (vampires & humans co-existing). However, if there was one thing lacking, it was the amount of time spent on descriptions and back story. I know it is necessary to cover these ideas in a well balanced novel, but the pace suffered because of it. To many times I found myself putting the book down and walking away, simply because of how long it took to get to sub-conclusions. There wasn't a lot of action throughout the story, but the painted scenes and intense dialogues made up for it. There were times when chapters ended abruptly and forced me to turn back to the previous page to see if I had missed something. Even towards the end of the book, where I thought it would pick up into this huge climatic buildup, fell short, and forced me to reanalyze this particular style of story telling. After all, it is a memoir.
4 out of 5 stars for an incredibly well written story that will in time, hopefully, become a classic in which others can model to follow and analyze. I've only scratched the surface with this review and I'm sure others will crack it further open for others to see. There is to be a followup to this one so I look forward to the day it is released.