The early 1990s: a lovely era during which some of the best vampire fiction was released. Anne Rice's vampire chronicles featuring Lestat were going strong, Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series was just starting out, and LJ Smith's Vampire Diaries had just made its debut on the teen scene (before The CW ruined it for me. Long live LJ Smith and her original works!).
Considering the early 1990s were great years for vampires, I wasn't surprised to find that The Book of Common Dread was ranked right up there with them.
Here's a sample of the synopsis:
When Vincent DeVilbiss draws beautiful Frederika Vanderveen into the erotic and brutal world of the undead, he makes an enemy of Simon Penn, a young rare-books curator who loves the troubled girl from afar. As Simon confronts a seemingly unstoppable foe, he finds the stakes are much higher than one woman's soul. For DeVilbiss has been sent to destroy an ancient document, before its powers can be turned against him and all the evil he has planned for the world.
So here we have vampires intersecting with the intellectual world of the Princeton University campus and library, which is the setting for this novel. The Book of Common Dread definitely offers far more than vampire sex, vampire bites, vampire love triangles, and all the other typical stuff you'll find in most vampire novels. Historians, bibliophiles, and intellectuals in general will find their time well-spent reading this novel.
I love when books can offer more than just a great, entertaining story. The depth of Monahan's research is truly impressive, and offers a glimpse into a world I hadn't known existed -- mainly that of language translators who are so smart, they're able to translate and study the patterns of ancient languages that are so old, nobody in existence can either speak or read them. This book also opened my eyes to the complexity and intrigue of James Joyce's Ulysses (who knew you had to read Ulysses once through just for the sake of understanding it in its entirety the second and third times you read it?), and about the history (however fictional) of certain old dialects.
I also loved how this novel flows quite easily given we learn absolutely nothing about Vincent DeVilbiss' background and vampire qualities until the middle of the book. Monahan does an excellent job of pulling in readers without having to reveal too much up front, which is quite the talent to have as an author!
The novel moves along quite swimmingly from start to finish. Our hero, Simon Penn, is unbelievably sexy and too smart for his own good in the most charming, unexpected way possible. I'm in love. We go from learning about the ancient texts DeVilbiss is after, to empathizing with Simon's unquenched love for Frederika, to Simon's uncontrollable ire after learning that DeVilbiss is manipulating Frederika for the sake of gaining access to his beloved ancient books. What a wild and fun ride.
The only part I didn't like in this book was the drawn-out elevator action scene at the end involving DeVilbiss and Simon. Every sentence ("he jumped from the elevator cables, then he jumped from the elevator onto the platform," blah blah blah) sounded the same to me. But, I understand that every great vampire novel needs to have some type of action-based climax, so I was okay with this.
I'm eagerly looking forward to reading the sequel, which is called The Blood of the Covenant (which is NOT to be confused with Covenant with the Vampire by Jeanne Kalogridis. I almost made that mistake!).
It's safe to say that The Book of Common Dread will definitely continue to rank among Rice, Hamilton, and Smith in my list of personal vampire favorites!