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Deliver Us From Evil
Tom Holland
Little, Brown UK, 582 pages

Photo: Simon Marsden
Deliver Us From Evil
Tom Holland
Tom Holland is the British author of a pair of Gothic historical vampire novels: The Vampyre: The Secret History of Lord Byron (1996, UK; as Lord of the Dead in US) and Supping with Panthers (1997, UK; as Slave of My Thirst in US). He has also written Attis and Deliver Us From Evil. Holland lives in London, England.

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A review by Victoria Strauss

Having suffered a fatal overdose of vampire fiction in the late 80s, I generally steer clear of the genre. But I'm a sucker for speculative fiction in a historical setting, especially if it provides alternate explanations for real events, and so I couldn't resist Tom Holland's Deliver Us From Evil, a vampire extravaganza set during the Restoration period in England.

When a horribly mutilated body is discovered near the ancient stone circle known as Clearbury Ring, Captain Foxe, head of the local Roundhead militia, finds no clues as to the identity of the murderer, much less why a man should be killed in such a terrible way. But later, when a similarly murdered child is found in a church built on the foundation of another pagan site, the evidence leads Captain Foxe to Wolverton Hall, the deserted home of Sir Charles Wolverton, who is thought to have died 15 years earlier.

But Sir Charles isn't dead -- or not exactly. An ancient and monstrous evil (which some believe to be a god, and others know to be a demon) has been awoken by a powerful vampire who calls himself Faustus, and temporarily housed in Sir Charles's body. Faustus plans to bring this evil to full manifestation in its own form, and the murders are sacrifices to serve that purpose. When at last Captain Foxe deduces the truth, he himself becomes Faustus's final sacrifice. His son Robert, fleeing the destruction of his home and the execution of his mother -- both engineered by Faustus -- witnesses his father's dreadful death and the demon's rebirth. He becomes the demon's victim also, though in a different way.

Robert is found by a pair of charismatic vampires, who, it later turns out, have not happened along by accident. They take him into their own household. Brought up to be a good puritan, he is horrified as much by their sybaritic lifestyle as by their blood-drinking. After a period of change and struggle, however, he decides to accept this new existence. He remakes himself as Robert Lovelace, whose sole ambition is revenge: for his father, for his family, for everything he loved that was destroyed. His quest takes him from decadent Restoration London to the ghettos of Prague to the wilderness of America. In the process he is transformed, both physically and emotionally, and discovers that his journey is not merely choice, but destiny.

One could point out a number of inconsistencies in Deliver Us From Evil. The complex plot isn't always tied together as tightly as it could be, and some of the story's huge chronological leaps are jarring. A good chunk of the book involves various characters narrating their own tales -- a stylistic device that fits well with the novel's historical setting, but occasionally seems excessively convoluted, especially when a narrator is quoting someone who is quoting someone else. And the ending doesn't entirely satisfy: it comes too quickly, and there isn't quite enough of it.

But -- and this makes all the difference -- Holland is a very fine writer. His command of language, his skillful characterizations, his ability to create a powerful atmosphere, together transcend the problems mentioned above, and make Deliver Us From Evil a really riveting read. This is a lush, dark, sensuous novel, awash in sex and violence, laced with vivid detail, and written with a passion that leaps off the page. Holland's scholarship is impressive also: his various settings have an admirably authentic feel. The sense of period is enhanced by a slightly archaic prose style, and dialogue that suggests the speech of the time without ever seeming artificial or unnatural -- a difficult achievement, nicely realized.

Another thing to be admired is the clever way Holland interweaves the supernatural world of his story with actual historical events, providing alternate vampirical explanations for everything from the Great Fire of London to the death of Christopher Marlowe. There are many real-life figures mixed in with the fictional ones (this appears to be a trademark of Holland's books) -- some famous and some less so, including the amazingly debauched Earl of Rochester, and a very otherworldly John Milton, whose poetry underscores some of Robert's more revelatory and desperate moments.

This isn't a book for the squeamish. While Holland's horrors aren't really gratuitous, and serve both to advance the story and strengthen the atmosphere, they are fairly stomach-churning. Don't read it after eating -- but do read it; if you have any taste at all for vampire fiction, you'll be glad you did.

Copyright © 1999 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel, The Arm of the Stone, is currently available from Avon Eos. For an excerpt, visit her website.

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