By Jacqueline Holland
Publication Date: March 3, 2023
In the early 1830s, diphtheria arrives in Anna’s New York village, decimating the population. She survives, in a sense, turned into a vampire by her mysterious grandfather. She didn’t ask for the gift/curse and spends the next 150 years trying to come to terms with the dark nature she had foisted upon her.
Now, in 1984, she runs a French preschool in her grandfather’s home under the name Collette LeSange. Still bitter and trying to outrun the vengeful god from her childhood, Collette struggles with hiding her vampirism and despairing over the hate and bitterness of the world. Then Leo Hardman is enrolled at her school and Collette finds herself drawn into his family’s trouble, drawing closer to the talented child even as the god stalks her and her hunger escalates, putting everyone in danger.
First, I want to say that this novel is beautifully written. The prose is gorgeous and it’s told in tantalizing snippets slipping between Anna/Collette’s “now” in 1984 and her rebirth and years that shaped her belief in the god of endings. But I was about halfway through the novel and realized I didn’t care very much, that I had never connected to the main character. It’s difficult to stay engrossed in an almost 500-page novel when I can’t bring myself to be invested in what happens or why.
Finally, I connected with Leo and the story took on more importance, even if Collette’s character frustrated me. But I was still disappointed by the end of the novel because of what I saw as character arcs not sufficiently fleshed out and/or plot devices that felt convenient.
**Spoiler alert** – skip this paragraph if you don’t want to read anything specific from the story but I’m unable to make my point without them. The main character has a sudden change in how often she needs to feed and finds herself unable to account for her activities while she’s asleep. This should have been a point of tension but it went on for so long, I got a little bored with it. Then, she has the perfect opportunity to ask about her growing hunger and doesn’t do it. Why? I’m not sure, it’s never actually explained. Nor does she inquire how to store blood so she can avoid the need to sneak around and feed, often driving herself to being famished and unable to trust herself. Secondly, in the sections leading up to the “present”, she has several opportunities to help needy children but usually doesn’t take them. That was incredibly frustrating for me and while I understand it drove her final act in the book, I saw that as selfish and not redeeming, which is what I think the author intended.
I will say that the historic details were really well done – I remember 1984 quite well and I think the author nailed it, even if a few scenes seemed to have been put in with no rationale other than filler.
Overall, I think Reluctant Immortals told a similar story better.
3/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐
Thank you to NetGalley and Flatiron Books for providing the ARC ebook. I’ve left my review honestly and voluntarily.
Until next time, thank you for visiting.