Crossroad Press & Macabre Ink Digital, $2.99
Review by Darkeva
Steve Vernon is the dark scribe behind such works as Devil Tree, Bad Valentines, and The Weird Ones among others. Starting in 2011, Crossroad Press began releasing his backlist titles as e-books, and I, for one, think this is a great measure to help the author find a new audience and to make his classic works available in a new format, particularly as publishers are reprinting physical backlist copies less and less and will likely turn to digitizing them as a way of re-releasing them. Having read Gypsy Blood and being new to Vernon’s work, I am happy to have made a new discovery – it’s heavy on the supernatural elements, which is just the way I like it.
We’re introduced to the main character, Carnival, as he contemplates killing himself, but the trouble is that there’s a spirit caged inside his chest beside his heart and it’s trying to encourage him to hurry up and do it. Not only that, but it’s the spirit of his father, Poppa. We learn that Carnival imprisoned his dad’s ghost inside him, although it’s not immediately clear why. Poppa and Carnival have a wonderful dynamic, particularly with their opposing voices.
Carnival is a shuvano, the Romani word for witch or sorcerer, and although Poppa pokes fun at his son for thinking he’s a gypsy when he’s really only half, Carnival isn’t so picky about half-gypsy or full. At first, it’s a tad confusing to tell what he is, because the reader essentially learns new and important information through Poppa’s dialogue (mostly insults), but it gets better as the novel continues.
Our unlikely hero is on a mission to kill a succubus; I thought it was creative that he stuffed his ears with candlewax to become immune to her lure, but of course, she has other methods of persuasion. Although I did wonder what a succubus would be doing in a church, I thought it was a great scene, and it established the villain well.
I found the point of view a bit tricky at times, because it seemed like third person limited at first, but when Carnival left the church, he wouldn’t know the Red Shambler, the villain, was there, or how it would be possible for Poppa’s laughter to ring out ominously and for him not to hear it.
Getting back to the strength’s, Vernon utilized incredibly unique descriptions that take his writing up a notch. As the novel progresses, we see that Carnival works as a fortune teller. When he looks into cards, it’s like looking into the other person’s mirror – whatever his client thinks is what the cards see. The action intensifies when an attractive female vampire calling herself Maya comes to his door. He lets her in despite Poppa’s admonitions not to.
Maya makes victims drown in their memories and then sucks them dry. In this universe, vampires aren’t created through a virus that someone catches – one can only inherit vampirism. Carnival finds himself getting even more tangled in Maya’s web as he becomes unsure of who he can trust, and he becomes embroiled in a conflict with something beyond his worst fears. And just as Poppa has an important role to play, so too does Momma. The conclusion is epic and exciting, and makes for a great hero-villain confrontation, and there’s the slightest hint that although much tragedy has taken place, there may be a ray of hope after all.
If you haven’t read Steve Vernon’s work before, Gypsy Blood is a fantastic place to start with lots of action, humor, plot twists, and supernatural elements to keep you coming back for more.