Nights Of Blood Wine: Lush Dark Tales by Freda Warrington (book review).

‘Nights Of Blood Wine’ is a collection of two parts by Freda Warrington. The first section, ‘Blood Wine Tales’ consists of ten stories featuring characters from the ‘Blood Wine’ world of Warrington’s novels but they can be enjoyed even if you haven’t read those books. Part two, ‘Other Tales’ has five more stories, three of which are loosely based on her ‘Aetherial Tales’ series.

The ‘Blood Wine Tales’ have a recurring cast of characters. Kristian, ‘a vampire of singular habits, not entirely sane’, is the ancient vampire who seems to have turned most of the older ones, selecting certain humans for some special quality only he can see. Karl is one of the oldest. His beautiful partner is Charlotte. They appear in several stories, either advising the protagonist or listening to his tale.

‘Shadows On The Wall’ begins with a French lawyer perched on a balcony watching two hot vampires having sex. Jean Paul Beauchene (for it is he) has taken over the clients of his late mentor, Victor Lalande, including the mysterious Karl Alexander von Wultendorf who seems to stay forever young. He gets away with this dogging for now and may successfully manage the account.

I liked the story and the characters but there’s no escaping the fact that this respectable professional is managing the loot for a mass murderer. However, there are many respectable financial institutions in the city of London happily doing the same thing, so why worry?

‘The Fall Of The House Of Blackwater’ is about Sebastian Pierse, a member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy who was turned into a vampire one terrible day in 1704 and still haunts his old family home but doesn’t get it all his own way. A chilling tale, nasty in parts.

‘The Dead Do Not Tempt Us’ features Ilona and Pierre, two others from the ‘Blood Wine’ world, travelling in Russian during Joe Stalin’s purges. They get mixed up with a farmer, his daughter and her husband who don’t get on. There’s an element of very black comedy here, as there is in ‘Ultra Silvam’. Count Gyorgy Vadaszh, an impoverished aristocrat somewhere in Europe, makes his way to the castle fortress of very wealthy widow Countess Gerlaszhovsky to marry her and make his fortune. Things do not go as planned.

‘The Ghost Who Looks Like You’ is narrated in the style of Joseph Conrad, with one person telling it to someone else. In this case, Stefan is telling his tale to Charlotte. Stefan was an 18th century Swedish farmer’s son with effeminate good looks, so much so that his father thought he might be a changeling. But he charms his way into the court of King Gustav in Stockholm and has a good time with the decadent nobles before becoming a vampire and then, in a strange and original way, a twin. Freda Warrington’s vampires, it seems, have little interest in work or business or life as it is lived in general and prefer the company of the decadent, useless rich. On the bright side, this makes you feel less pity for their victims.

Philip and Jennifer go to see ‘Swan Lake’ in ‘My Name Is Not Juliette’ and Philip is entranced by the ballerina playing Odile, who is also the owner of the company and a vampire, too. The theme is what women do to please their men and how men are confused between the pure Eve and the wicked Lilith perceptions of the female. It makes an interesting point.

Las Muertas Invidas’ or translates as ‘The Living Dead’ is a tale of friendship and suffering in a women’s prison in South America. It reminded me of the film ‘Midnight Express’ but probably worse. The prisoners call on Santa Muerte, Our Beloved Lady of the Holy Death, a saint the Christian Brothers didn’t teach me about. Stories don’t get much darker than this but it’s grim and gripping.

Part Two of the book opens with ‘The Journal Of Elena Kovacs’ which is in the journal style of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, fitting for a story written for the anthology ‘Dracula The Undead’. Elena is the daughter of a painter living in a farming community but, unlike the owners of sheep, she feels sympathy for the wolf who comes amongst them. No ordinary wolf. Interesting variation on the theme of reviving Dracula, which Hammer did with every new film, bless them.

‘Cat And The Cold Prince’ is about a girl working in a cafe in a dystopian future where all forms of self-expression are banned. ‘The discouragement of religious festivals had eventually become a ban, along with the proscription of any form of religious symbol or clothing. Affiliation to political parties had followed, and at last the seeping harvests of all self-expression. No more shirts bearing the names of pop stars or football teams, no individual clothing of any kind. Clubs of all kinds were banned, since, however innocent their activities they were by their very nature exclusive and divisive. All to avoid even the slightest risk of causing offence to those of a different persuasion, there were now, officially, no persuasions at all.

I quote at length because this left-wing dystopia sometimes seems a possibility. See Twitter! There’s always someone waiting to be offended. In the story, a secret group meets in the basement of the cafe and Cat becomes involved with them. An excellent tale that goes off in an unexpected direction.

‘Ruins And Bright Towers’ was written for an anthology ‘Night’s Nieces’ published by Immanion Press in honour of Tanith Lee. It focuses on Sylvie, a teenage girl who lives with her useless, drunken father. Her only friend is a girl from the care home down the road whose life is even worse. Their escape is reading ‘Storm Lord’ by Tanith Lee. The real-life misery wasn’t to my taste but it has a trendy twist at the end and will make you want to read ‘Storm Lord’.

Like many female fantasy authors, Freda Warrington writes in lush, beautiful prose that is a pleasure to read; the kind that makes a book better than a film. It’s the prose, the decadence and the charisma of the unlovely cast that draws you into her world. A moment’s reflection, which vampires do have, would reveal that these are vile creatures you should loathe, as are most of their human victims. On reading the first few pages of the first story, I decided this wasn’t my sort of thing at all.

Persisting, I enjoyed it. Not to the extent that I intend to read the novels but I can see the attraction and if heavily emotional, sensual, mildly erotic horror with some perception about human nature is your kind of thing anyway then you will certainly lap this up or suck it up through your pointy fangs.

Eamonn Murphy

January 2021

(pub: Telos Publishing, 2017. 220 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84583-951-2)

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