Halloween Month moved another notch today, leaving us with just 20 days left. Balladeer’s Blog continues its month-long celebration with a look at another neglected gem of horror fiction.
LA VILLE-VAMPIRE (City of Vampires) 1867 – Written by the accomplished and prolific Paul Feval, it’s Village of Vampires, or City of Vampires or, if you prefer, Vampire City (Wham, bam, thank you ma’am! Va- va- va- Vampire CIT-EEE! … Had to be said.)
Paul Feval’s heroine in this story is the young Ann Ward, who went on to be Ann Radcliffe, pioneer of Gothic Horror through such works as The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian. Ann’s friends Cornelia de Witt and Ned Barton depart for the continent with their new acquaintance Otto Goetzi.
Goetzi turns out to be a vampire who lures Cornelia and Ned deeper and deeper into a trap. Back in England, Ann Ward deduces all this from odd letters that she receives from her friends and from horrific premonitions which come to her in nightmares.
Ann and a much older family servant called Grey Jack cross the English Channel to come to the rescue of Ann’s friends. Soon the trail leads to Belgrade and then to a dismal city called Selene by outsiders but known as the Sepulchre to its inhabitants, all of whom are vampires.
The entire landscape changes as a traveler approaches the city, becoming very overcast and gloomy no matter what time of day or night. The denizens wear an eternal air of mourning and morosely ponder the peace of a death they will never know.
Ann and her makeshift Scooby Gang are in for a wild and ghoulish ride. Don’t expect the vampire tropes we’ve grown accustomed to in most modern-day fiction. The story is set in the 1700s and was written in the 1860s when there was a less rigid perception of what vampires are and what they can and can’t do.
The city of Selene/ The Sepulchre is not only chock-full of vampires but is also a haven of sorts. Vampires can come there to heal or to hide from human pursuers or to permanently retire if they have grown weary of the outside world.
Many of the undead residents of Selene are referred to as former royalty or geniuses in the various creative fields. Some of the vampires have key-holes in the left side of their breasts and periodically require the insertion of a master key for rewinding. Dark Priests perform that unwholesome duty.
Feval’s vampires can absorb their victims, eventually becoming a kind of colony creature themselves, filled with the memories of their many victims.
Ann leads her cohorts in killing the undead legions and – in Feval’s universe – the best weapons against vampires are the ashes of another dead vampire. Those ashes work like explosives, dispatching the undead to Hell in a pyrotechnical display.
This work is more fun than you could imagine, helped greatly by Ann’s macabre fascination with the nightmarish sights she beholds in this adventure. Think of it as The Young Ann Radcliffe Chronicles.
I was amazed at the 1867 date given how so many story elements seem ahead of their time. The use of a revered author as the hero anticipates many future works but when you consider that the author being used is A WOMAN it makes it doubly impressive.
This novel also anticipated the Goth community’s obsession with pretending that a long line of historical figures were actually vampires. +++
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14 responses to “CITY OF VAMPIRES (1867)”
I really love this post! What a book!
You said it!
Awesome! This book is so old and has such strange notions of vampires.
I know how you feel!
Ann was Buffy before there was a Buffy!
Very strange notions about vampires back then.
I know what you mean.
Huge Paul Feval fan here, this book is unique among his work, he’s usually not nearly this Gothic, but he does have two arguably three other Vampire novels, and a lot of other cool stuff.
That is interesting to hear. What are the titles of his other vampire stories?
La Vampire published in English as The Vampire Countess which was the first of his books I read, it has one of my favorite Femme Fatales. Then there is Le Chevalier Tenebere published in English as Knightshade which is a fascinating experiment in Metafiction. The one that is perhaps not properly a Vampire story but feels related would be Revenants.
Thank you very much! I will check them out!