Trade Paper, 425 pages, $14.95
Review by Sheila Merritt
It’s a druggy day in London town. Parts of the population of that city have taken a recreational drug called “Skarlet.” It turns them into vampires, who then turn their victims into their kind. This is an epic epidemic; an exponential assault which seems unstoppable. Thankfully, Jake Lawton is there to combat the chaos and carnage. Jake serves as a security guard/bouncer at a club called Religion. Periodically, the club hosts a goth/vampire themed evening. It is at such an event that the Skarlet pills are distributed. The letter “k” in the pills’ name is significant: They contain particles of an ancient vampire demon known as Kea. Kea had two vampire cohorts, Kahash and Kasdeja, from Babylonia. There, the trio protected King Nebuchadnezzer during Babylonia’s prosperous age. This trinity, which is easy to think of as the KKK, is primed to be resurrected in present day London by the descendents of Nebuchadnezzer. The thirst for power never dies. Jake Lawton, however, has all the attributes of an action hero: A misunderstood loner, falsely perceived as a bad guy in the Iraq war; disgraced and discharged from service, possessing soldierly skills and a sense of honor. Can Jake save the city, when, to paraphrase Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, “Frankly, Skarlet, they all look damned?”
Jake finds an additional complication when his ex-girlfriend, Jenna, is turned into a vampire. Jenna still has feelings for Jake, and wants him to become like her. Her feeling for other humans, however, is not so loving: “She thought about her family, who were now only blood. She thought about her friends, named them all in her head, but felt nothing but the urge to feed from them.” While Jenna’s emotions are very clear, Jake is confounded and confused when she confronts him: “He found her more desirable that he’d ever done before. His heart raced and sweat broke out on his goosepimpled skin. There was something -he shook his head – vile about her that drew him in; something abominable and delicious.” It is such writing that makes Thomas Emson’s second novel worth reading.
On the down side, however, is the book’s overwrought narrative. There is a great deal of convoluted explication of back story. Given that this is the first of a trilogy, it just may be that the author was trying to establish all the elements that would be integral to the next two novels. Some characters that seem extraneous in this volume could well be prominent in one or both of the next books. Skarlet is certainly a promising work, and it will be interesting to see if Thomas Emson’s future stories can elevate to the level of his prose in the future installments.