The Vampire Circus by Rod Kierkegaard Jr.

The Vampire Circus by Rod Kierkegaard Jr.Combining an engaging portrayal of Europe and America in the 1920’s with an interesting twist on the social vampire trope, Kierkegaard produces a narrative full of ancient conspiracy and subtle threat without forgoing pace or immediacy.

This book contains the first five episodes of Kierkegaard’s serial, The Vampires of Paris. When Johnny Durango, former Pinkerton detective, is released from prison after twenty years for killing the vampires who slew his family, he expects to spend his last few dollars and years hunting down the vampires that escaped. However, events conspire to give him a new lease of life.

Meanwhile, in Paris, Coco Zwellinger, unhappily married to the celebrity whose witty pieces she ghostwrites, is reunited with her long-lost sister, Zuzu Birdsong, the star of a “Negro” jazz troupe. Focused on rebuilding their relationship and the mundane travails of their lives, neither sister notices they are being stalked by both a vampire hunter’s apprentice and the nest of vampires he seeks.

With both Zuzu and Coco’s arcs focusing on mundane troubles rather than vampirism, this collection seemed to echo Varney the Vampire: several narratives that interlock or narrowly miss each other, with vampires not being the most prominent. Even Willy, the young vampire hunter, intersects with Coco through teenage lust rather than through the discovery she is of interest to vampires. However – unlike Varney – Kierkegaard’s tale neither sensationalizes nor skimps on details of the vampires. As such, readers who are disinterested in 1920’s Paris will not feel short-changed.

And, with both mundane details from early episodes becoming part of the vampire arcs and intimations that both Coco and Zuzu are connected to vampire society, the balance might well shift more toward vampires after episode five.

Kierkegaard’s evocation of both Paris and the US is skilled; scenes contain fine detail of the social conventions of time and place without either drifting into paragraphs of historical text or glossing over the differences between both each locale and the present day.

Equal care has been expended on vampires and their society; powers and tensions are shown mostly through inference from character actions. Where more obvious description is present, Keirkegaard makes both good use of the inexperience of the vampire hunter’s apprentice and of older vampires interacting with the new or shunned to give the exposition a feel of educating a character rather than the reader.

Where Keirkegaard does introduce confusion or disbelief is in his choice of by-names: both the young vampire hunter and Coco’s husband call themselves Willy at certain points. As both are intertwined with her arc, this keeps the usages in proximity; so – although context provides enough clues to work out which each instance is – readers might find having to spend a brief moment each time to be certain a distraction.

Unsurprisingly given the nuanced background, the characters are a balance between easily accessible stereotypes and complex products of a different world. This is most evident in the tension between Coco and Zuzu; one so much part of Western European civilisation that she has bleached away her heritage, the other building a career out of seeming everything Western European civilisation isn’t; yet both struggling with the same conflicts of love and family.

Johnny Durango adds a third angle to the conflict between focused pretence and universal concerns. The classic grizzled gunfighter, a character renowned for plain-speaking and direct action, he too both believes his behaviour is the core of himself yet wears it as a mask.

Ultimately, this collection is the first five parts of a serial rather than a complete novel. As such, readers who expect a tidy ending would be advised to wait for the entire serial to be available.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I recommend it to readers who are seeking a vampire story that is neither hunters chasing a monster nor troubled immortals burdened with loneliness.

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

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