Tuesday, December 01, 2009

"Dunraven Road" by Caroline Barnard Smith

Review by Harry Markov
I received “Dunraven Road” courtesy of the author, after falling in love with the cover, which apart from housing favorite colors of mine also promised an interesting and worthwhile read. My intuition towards covers has been nearly flawless so far, keeps an almost perfect score and has added this one to the list of well estimated titles. To be quite frank I expected another romance story, when I read that vampires are the main baddies in this novel, but the reader can expect a paranormal novel with gothic and thriller elements, with the necessary angst and turbulent relationship, but the drugs, decadence and murders prevents “Dunraven Road” to enter the stereotypical vampire mold. On the negative the reader will resort to patience and bear with the rough edges, too familiar elements and writing that accompany debut novels.
In the sleepy backwater of Dunraven Road, a group of hedonistic friends are trapped in a deadly prison of their own making. When Zach, their enigmatic leader, brings his long term plans to fruition and paves the way for a sadistic vampire cult, their fragile world begins to break apart. Fuelled by dangerous passions and an insatiable craving for `red', the group must decide whether to succumb to the sweet lure of the abyss, or stand and fight for their very survival.
The book starts on a small scale with local entrepreneur Zach, who has decided to expand his small drug dealing operation into something grander. He doesn’t quite enjoy his ordinary life, running his family story the Golden Harvest. On top of his priority list is power, financial and the other intangible influence over people. He is a leader and a schemer. It would seem that he is the main antagonist, who ruins lives through debauchery and addiction. However Smith has skillfully stripped him from his control page after page, rendering him from a power figure to a puppet, using his power lust. Zach is also delusional about becoming a vampire and that craving to reach immortality in an emo desperation, to be something greater than an ephemeral human is handled well, although such characters are predictable, such are the ones that control them. In this case this role is handed over to mysterious fame fatale Gwyneth, who comes from nowhere, sweeps Zach’s head and then steals his show. Although this relationship trope is classic, bordering on cliché, but one I enjoy greatly and seeing a femme fatale is always a delight for me. As far as the remaining inter-character dynamics in the novel are considered, I couldn’t buy several relationships such as the sick devotion Sapphire expresses towards Zach, which is a plot device to propel the plot by flinging her into danger instead of being organic. Then there is the romantic spark between Sapphire and Paul [artist and a former ‘red’ junkie] that feels forced without a natural catalyst. To mix world building with character issues the vegan vampire aspect and the characters that are introduced feel misplaced and didn’t work with me. The world building and establishing the vampire culture and history could have gone better, adding a few more pages into the novel, but strengthening the illusion that this world is real. However the atmosphere, story and the genre elements that transform book into experience are present and well executed. Although the reader solves the mystery of how ‘red’ is made, the actual weaving and revelation into the story produces a satisfactory result. Still to do with the ‘red’ I enjoyed the psychic side effects that come with its use, particularly demonstrated with Sapphire, who develops a second sight to dispel glamour, receives ominous visions and also become a bit of King’s Carry at the finally after taking an overdose. But the risk had been well measured and the sacrifice worked on logical and emotional level, which established her as a strong female heroine. Something that didn’t exactly stick with her in the novel. As a conclusion I can say that “Dunraven Road” marks a good as any start a career of a young writer with the usual technical difficulties, but overall the heart and spirit of the book were in the right place for me in order to overlook the jagging moments in the narrative, the obvious tropes and twists and enjoy what has been written. Also reading about vampires, who look at sex with humans as a random bonus to sucking their veins dry and treating them like dumb cattle is also something I have wanted to read from a long time ago.


cassandrajade said...

Good review. It must be hard for vampire stories at the moment to distinguish themselves. I'm not sure if I'm going to dive in and read Dunraven soon but it is certainly one I will think about for the future.

Harry Markov said...

Yes, vampires stories have it quite hard these days and I am usually on my run from them, but sometimes it so happens that a good one falls in my lap. "Dunraven Road" makes an interesting the very least read.