Immortal with a Kiss
Trade Paper, 368 pages, $13.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
A tome titled Immortal with a Kiss would simplistically seem a romance novel. And, indeed, a cover which features a below the chin shot focusing on the attributes of a gal sporting a low cut red dress would do much to enforce the image. There is no getting around that author Jacqueline Lepore embraces the romantic, but there is more to the story than meets the eye.
For one thing, the title itself is a quote from Christopher Marlowe’s play, Doctor Faustus; selling one’s soul for immortality is the theme. Other literary references abound, and the tone of the narrative owes much to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and a bit to the works of Jane Austen. The book is infused with acknowledgements to some gothic horror masters: Bram Stoker; Sheridan LeFanu; Lord Byron; and John Polidori.
Set in 19th Century England, this moody and atmospheric tale of destinies conjoined by the battling of evil succeeds on many levels. While the occasional breathiness of a heaving bosom does occur, meaningful sighs rather than panting, prevail. Pent up emotions and dark mysteries are cautiously unraveled. Sinister secrets are slowly and deliberately unlocked.
The protagonist of the piece, Emma Andrews, is a vampire hunter. She is a “Dhampir,” the offspring of a human and a vampire; endowed with abilities to locate and combat the revenants. She also embodies the classic Victorian heroine: Headstrong; intelligent, and frustrated by the limits of society; striking, but not conventionally beautiful; resourceful, yet swoony when in the company of an attractive male. Factor into the equation a proper girls’ school in The Lake District; remote and easily accessible to creatures of the night, and a touch of pubescent dalliance in witchcraft/sexuality, for the perfect storm of supernatural upheaval.
Resulting horrors include a literally heartbreaking sequence in which a vampiric young mother and her blood sucking infant must be staked to death. When Emma is required to dispatch the child, she steels herself thus: “The thing – I refused to think of it as a baby any longer – wriggled like a mighty sturgeon on a harpoon, its strength astounding me. The sounds … I discovered I was screaming myself to drown out the noise and then … then it was still.”
Despite the formidable and fearsome foes Emma must face, she finds solace in a band of spiritual brethren. Her comrades are a crew of battered souls, each suffering displacement from their personal histories, and/or the culture at large. They know the horrific danger of the malevolence they face, but it gives them purpose and a sense of family in their unification through confrontation. When one of the undead begins manipulating the students at the school, the ramifications ripple through the town. As the experienced Emma senses: “The fear it brought with it was like a wash of watercolor over everything, an ugly and angry red that cast the most innocent thing in a lurid light.”
Much attention is paid to period detail and characterizations are carefully etched. One character is gay; playing the London fop for the sake of fashion, but feeling internally constrained by societal denials. He is a dandy in dress, but is needy when psychologically stripped down.
As with the personages inhabiting her tale, there are dimensions to Jacqueline Lepore’s novel which aren’t obvious from its title or cover. Immortal with a Kiss is about enduring trials, seizing the solidarity of friendship, and converting frailties into empowerment. There be dragons and Draculas. A throb at the throat is present; along with an ache in the heart, and a chill up the spine in the dark.