Book Review: Vampire Hunter D, Vol. 1

For the Spooky Season, I decided to do something a little different from my usual string of horror films – having picked up the Vampire Hunter D audiobooks from Audible, and since I have a commute again, I decided to get started listening to those on my way to work – and having finished re-reading the first one, it would be appropriate to give my thoughts.

Book Cover for Vampire Hunter D

Vampire Hunter D, at its core, is a well-put-together hybrid of a gothic horror story and a western, combined with a post-apocalyptic setting. The first book is a pretty basic vampire story – vampire menaces village in general and a pretty girl in particular, a mysterious warrior drifts into town with the ability to fight the vampire and help said pretty girl and her brother, group in town clashes with the girl (who they fear because she’d been bit) and the vampire hunter because he’s a Dhampir – clash being in torches and pitchforks form, and so on.

However, what makes this really work is how this particular post-apocalyptic idiom articulates. The book is set in the year 20,000 after a nuclear war destroyed society, after which it was rebuilt by the vampires and their own ultratechnolgy (with the intent of using humanity as slaves), who were then overthrown by humanity, who are unable to maintain the technology at the same level. Further, because of how the vampires have used the technology, we get these really different mixes of gothic horror concepts, western concepts, science fiction concepts, and straight-up fantasy.

For example, there are various horrific monsters like werewolves, dimensional shamblers, displacer beasts, and even a knockoff of the Dikronian Cloud Creature from Star Trek in this setting all populating the wilds. Why? Because the vampires wanted to keep the humans from wandering off to places they couldn’t monitor them, so they genetically engineered an array of monsters to keep them in line – and modeled them after monsters from fiction and mythology. Why are people traveling around on horses? Because the infrastructure has fallen into disrepair, so instead they ride cyborg horses or genetically engineered (or straight-up mutated) six-legged steeds. The vampires persist in castles out in the distant countryside because that’s the places the more organized government can’t muster the strength to oppose them in force – particularly since those castles have shields and laser guns defending them.

However, the book definitely has its flaws. We have two female characters in the whole story, and while neither of them – Doris, the ingénue who has hired D to slay the vampire that bit her; and Larmica – the vampire daughter of Count Lee, who wants to keep her father from turning Doris into a vampire (not because she likes Doris, but because she thinks Doris is beneath them) – are particularly passive characters, and both have their own motivations, they are limited in terms of their influence on the story. Larmica really has the most impact on the plot, as she serves as a foil to her father’s own plans, but is also more frequently foiled when it comes to direct conflict. Doris is a more reactive figure but is able to hold her own to the challenges she’s put up against. She’s also written very unevenly – at the start of the book she’s willing to strip buck nekked to try and get an edge in a fight against D, but for the rest of the book she fits the ingénue archetype.

All of this all runs into the problem of D himself. He’s something of an enigma, not speaking much, and not emoting much, but in a way that makes him feel more like a more chaste Geralt of Rivia. Some of this is helped by him receiving an emotional foil in the form of his Left Hand. As this is the first book, Left Hand is written as something of a mystery, until he gets a dramatic reveal later in the book. However, he serves as something of a voice for D’s baser instincts, and an emotional sounding board by how D reacts to his comments. To be clear, Left Hand is very much a jackass and is very crass, but by doing so he gives someone D can emotionally push back on, even if he’s not outwardly expressing his inner thoughts to the Countinanced Carbuncle.

Finally, I do need to give my thoughts on the audiobook. There are two versions available – a GraphicAudio dramatization, and a conventional audiobook – I listened to the regular audiobook. The reader is very good – he’s also the reader of the Dragonlance novels – and he particularly nails the voices for D, Left Hand, Magnus Lee, and Rei Ginsei. His reading for Doris more or less plays her exactly like Tika Waylan from the Dragonlance books, which was a little jarring, but I eventually warmed up to it.

If you want to pick up the book – the audiobook is available from Amazon.com. Additionally, as of this writing, the Humble Store has a bundle of digital, DRM-free versions of the first 29 Vampire Hunter D novels. Buying anything through either link helps to support the blog.

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