Those Who Hunt The Night: A James Asher Novel
eBook, 845 KB, $9.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
It’s difficult not to choke on these words: An eBook is a cause for rejoicing. Fighting the trend tooth and nail, longing to emulate Star Trek’s Captain Picard immersed in a hardback book and imbibing a cup of Earl Grey tea; a personal conversion has occurred. Barbara Hambly’s wonderful Those Who Hunt the Night (first published in 1988) is again available. It shakes a stubborn stance about bucking an inevitable trend. For, whatever prejudices one may have against eBooks, a reissue of such a fine novel is reason for joy. Format doesn’t matter, when the content is so rewarding.
A mystery story with supernatural trappings, the narrative is set in 1907 England. James Asher, spy and Oxford don, is drawn into a web of occult intrigue. His wife, Lydia, is held hostage in exchange for Asher’s participation in finding a murderer of the undead: “Someone has been killing the vampires of London.” Relying on his skills in espionage and academia, Asher is forcibly allied with Don Simon Ysidro, a centuries old vampire who psychically blackmails him into playing detective. At odds with both his client and other deadly denizens of the nosferatu persuasion, Asher must watch his back – and his neck.
Among the colorful characters Asher meets is a disarming femme fatale: “In one corner of the salon, a tall girl whose dark shoulders rose like bronze over a gown of oyster-colored satin played the piano – Tchaikovsky, but with a queer, dark curl to it, a sensuousness and syncopation, like music trickling from behind a mirror that looked into Hell.”
Moving in pursuit from England to France, the protagonist is right at home in dealing with the continental shift. His experience as a covert operative makes adaptation easy, and even poetic: “Blindfolded, he could see nothing, but the sounds of Paris were distinctive and as bright a kaleidoscope as its sights. No one, he thought, who had ever been here ever questioned how it was in this place that Impressionism came to be.”
Hambly’s prose prowess is best exhibited in carefully modulated characterization and in expert attention to detail. The distillation of Lydia’s very feminine feminism is crucial to the plot, yet subtle and endearing in its rendering. This is a woman of, and beyond, her time. Her wiles are a means of augmenting an idiosyncratic intellect and scientific curiosity. As a contrast to Lydia’s comfortable geeky modernity, the author depicts a female vampire who straddles the fence in terms of past and present: “The dark red of her gown showed like old blood against the creamy whiteness of her bosom and face; its stiff lines and low-cut corsage whispered of some earlier era; knots and fringes of cut jet beads glinted in the lamplight like ripe blackberries. Her thick hair was piled in the modern style; against it, her face looked strained, weary, and frightened, as if her spirit were now fighting against all the pressures of those accumulated years.”
Those Who Hunt the Night is a Locus award winner in the horror novel category and, its sequel, Traveling with the Dead, received the 1996 Lord Ruthven award. Blood Maidens, the third installment of the James Asher series was recently published. Barbara Hambly beautifully blends the society of the sanguinary with Turn of the Century culture. She creates elaborately etched characters, and eloquently conveys a sense of the period. Lushly atmospheric, Those Who Hunt the Night has returned to entertain eBook readers. Like the vampires inhabiting the novel, the resurrected work of this virtuoso writer adapts well to changes in technology.