If you ever hear me say “Oh, I’m not really into the whole vampire thing,” feel free to smack me. I don’t know why I say it; it’s probably because I don’t dress in black or wear fake fangs (much) but as I was reading Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls, I kept comparing it to other vampire books.
It turns out I’ve read a pile of them: Anne Rice of course; but also Stephen King (most everybody’s heard of Salem’s Lot, but there’s also a great short story in the Gunslinger universe called “The Little Sisters of Eluria”); the first book in Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series (I like the show way better – True Blood, in case you weren’t aware); Neil Gaiman’s short stories (although he put aside writing a vampire novel because he thinks we’ve got enough of them as is (huge shame)); the first book in Kim Harrison’s Hollows series (I’ll review that one later); and many more. And yes, I’ve even read Twilight, which I both loved and hated, putting me squarely in the middle of that controversy, so nobody can hate me. Or rather everybody can hate me and send nastygrams to my inbox that I will print out and make into paper hats. Either one’s good with me.
However, this review is for Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite. It’s typical of Brite’s more gothic books: full of sullen, unhappy teenagers; forbidden sex; and graphic violence. This, of course, means I enjoyed it, but it definitely means it’s not for everybody. I don’t think books should come with warning labels (seems way too close to censorship to me), but if frank descriptions of homosexual incest and abortions are going to put you off your tea, you might want to go read the Vampire Diaries series instead (Damon, siiiiiigh).
I found all of the previously mentioned authors’ styles in Brite’s book: the dark and dangerous yet somehow quaint descriptions of New Orleans that you’d find in an Anne Rice book; the intricate vocabulary that stops way short of being too flowery that you’d find in a Neil Gaiman story; horrible things happening to good people because the world’s not always fair, which Stephen King likes to do too; and even some teenage vampire angst for you Twilight fans. Though there isn’t a Bella. Just a girl whose friends are freaked out because she’s gotten brainwashed by a much older, and potentially very dangerous vampire lover (no, I swear it’s not Twilight). The Bella similarities end there. The girl in this book just accidentally gets pregnant with a vampire baby that will probably kill her in being born. Trust me, this is Lost Souls. Not Twilight. I checked.
All joking aside, this book is much, much darker than a lot of the vampire books I’ve read. It’s extremely violent but very well written, and if it seems to take itself a little too seriously at times you can forgive that because it’s about teens and tweens who’d probably be taking themselves too seriously even if they weren’t blood-drinking psychopaths.
I enjoyed her interpretation of the vampire myth; every author has to take the usual “sunlight bad, blood good” definition of vampires and turn it around somehow. Brite’s no different. Her vampires can sometimes go out in daylight (though they don’t like it much) and not all of them drink blood. Some drink spinal fluid; others drink tears or love or dreams or fear.
I even appreciated the ending; it’s pretty darn bleak, but nicely satisfying. Brite doesn’t write a typical happy ending, and she does like to kill off characters you might have otherwise thought were “safe.” But the ending wraps everything up in a believable way, and a few characters do survive to show up later in some of Brite’s short stories.
I’ll definitely read more of her work, though don’t go looking for anything recent from her; she was living in New Orleans when Katrina hit, and not everybody bounces back from something like that. She says she’s retired from writing, and I wish her very well in her life and recovery. However, it’s a shame for many reasons: loss of a great talent (for one) and also, if her books were dark before, can you imagine what they’d be like now?