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Lois Tilton
Hawk Publishing, 513 pages

Kelley Vandiver
Lois Tilton
Lois Tilton is the author of five novels, including Vampire Winter and Darkness on the Ice, an alternative view of vampires and vampiric lore. She is also the author of numerous SF, fantasy and horror short stories. She lives with her husband John in Chicago, where she is working on a new novel.

Lois Tilton Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Hawk Publishing

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Lois Tilton is known for several earlier vampire novels and for a number of incisive short stories, such as "The Enclave" in Asimov's this year. She has published two new novels in 2000 with smaller presses: Written in Venom from Wildside Press, and the book at hand, Darkspawn, from Hawk Publishing. This is a fine, exciting, novel about vampires and war, set in an alternate version of Eastern Europe some centuries ago.

One of the interesting aspects of the novel is its well-imagined take on the vampire legend. The vampires in the nation of Kharithnya are the long-time rulers of that land. Their blood-drinking is tied to the obedience their subjects owe them; but also implied is loyalty of the rulers to the ruled. In a sense, the vampirism can be seen as a metaphor encompassing the feudal obligations of ruler to subject and vice versa. Emre Bakhány is introduced as the last in a long line of Bakhánys, who appear to have been mostly just, if harsh, rulers: taking blood only voluntarily given (in small amounts) or from condemned prisoners. Only a few people can become vampires, that is to say, undead/immortal. The transformation also results in the loss of the ability to have children. Emre's children are long dead, having failed to make the transformation. As the book opens, Emre is worried about the possibility of a successor, and also about the incursion of Sun-worshippers into this Moon-worshipping region. But suddenly he is betrayed by one of his Wardens, and he is imprisoned in chains beneath the earth.

Hundreds of years pass. Kharithnya has been overrun by the Sun-worshippers, and Emre remains trapped in his "grave." But then Kharithnya is invaded by the Circhaks, horse raiders resembling the Mongols. The invading force accidentally frees Emre, and he finds himself making his way to his old castle, seeking revenge on the sun-priests who captured and imprisoned him, as well as trying to find a way to rally the few people still loyal to his religion in order to take back his country and repel the invaders.

The story follows four point-of-view characters, Emre Bakhány himself, a warrior-turned-shaman of the invading Circhaks, and a priest of the sun-worshippers, Milósz Vakhószy, along with his sister Milóny. Thus we see the action from the point of view of the nominal hero, from representatives of his two opponents, and from a character torn between the hero and one of his enemies. The main action, then, interweaves a solid action story about the war with an even better personal conflict story about Emre's efforts to continue his line, to deal with his (rather excessive) lust for revenge, and to deal with Milósz' antipathy to Emre and to what he represents.

I thought this was a fine fantasy novel. The action is well done and exciting. The main characters are well-depicted and involving. They are all morally complex, sometimes hard to like (certainly including the hero), and their fates are treated uncompromisingly. The fantasy elements are interesting and well-imagined, and this particular take on the vampire legend makes good use of the traditional elements with logical and consistent variations.

There is a lot of fine stuff being published by smaller presses, especially in these days of corporate consolidation at the major houses. Darkspawn is one good example of a first-rate book available from a small press.

Copyright © 2001 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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