The Kindred of Darkness is the fifth installment in Barbara Hambly’s James Asher vampire novels, after 2012’s Magistrates of Hell, and the third to be published by Severn House.
Any novel that followed Magistrates of Hell would have a hard act to follow: it is a testament to Hambly’s talent and her mastery of her craft that The Kindred of Darkness more than equals its predecessor.
Lydia Asher believes that her and her husband’s association with vampires is at an end. It is 1913: James is in Venice, on government business. Lydia remains in England, with their seventeen-month-old daughter Miranda, where she has been pressed by her aunts into assisting them to chaperone her niece on the marriage market. But while Lydia may want nothing more to do with the creatures of the night, the reverse is not necessarily true. She returns one night from London to find her household waiting at the train station: her daughter has been kidnapped, and a note from Grippen, London’s most powerful vampire left behind. He wants her to find the lair of a foreign vampire—as she has found vampires before, although not for him—one who has been killing twice and three times every day, drawing attention to the others who hunt the night. Or else she will never see her daughter alive again.
“Grippen had been a vampire since 1555. At an abstemious rate of one victim a week that was eighteen thousand dead, the mortality rate of a flood or an earthquake. Nothing that produced such carnage could be trusted.
Should be trusted.”
Although there is one vampire that Lydia believes will behave honourably towards her and her husband: Simon Ysidro, in whose company they have travelled before. She sends for both him, and for James, to return to England, and sets out to regain her daughter and protect her people: a task made more complicated by the fact that a member of her social circle in under a vampire’s thrall, the vampire whose lair Grippen wants her to find starts manipulating her dreams, and some other members of her social circle fancy themselves as vampire hunters.
When it comes to Barbara Hambly’s novels, the first word that springs to mind is usually atmospheric. There is a dark, brooding, flickering-gaslight quality to The Kindred of Darkness; and an undertone of lurking horror that will be familiar to readers of the previous James Asher novels. Hambly’s vampires are monsters, murderers, capable of seductive manipulation of the humans on which they prey but even the best of them are never less than terrible.
Compellingly so, for Hambly is an excellent writer, at the top of her game. Her prose has always been precise, richly descriptive; her characters powerfully believable people. That is no less true here than it has been for her career to date. Indeed, it may even be a little more so. Her attention to historical detail is consistently delightful—as is only to be expected from the author of the Benjamin January mystery series.
Lydia Asher has had a large role in this series so far, in recent books a presence to almost equal her husband’s, for all that the series is named for James Asher rather than James and Lydia Asher. In many ways it is she who dominates The Kindred of Darkness, and James who occupies a supporting role: her emotions and her actions are at the forefront, and remain there. (Grippen, after all, wants Lydia’s talents, rather than James’.) I like Lydia’s character—a scientist, independently wealthy, self-conscious about needing glasses, strong-minded—rather a lot—more, to be honest, that I like James—so to have her take a good share of the limelight was a pleasing bonus for me. The scope of her presence here ties in well with the novel’s thematic concern with daughters. Families, and the lengths to which parents will go to protect, or not, their children is a key theme here for humans and, in a related sense, vampires—although in the vampires’ case, it is more the lengths to which progenitors may go (or not) to control their offspring.
The Kindred of Darkness is a compelling novel, marvellously executed. (To borrow a much-abused cliché, it kept me on the edge of my seat.) I won’t hear a word against it—and if you haven’t read the James Asher novels before…
Well, now’s a good opportunity to start.
The Kindred of Darkness is available March 1st from Severn House Publishers