Fear and His Servant

Written by Mirjana Novakovic Terence McEneny (trans.)
Review by Bethany Latham

In 18th-century Serbia, Count Otto von Hausburg visits Belgrade with his servant, Novak. Von Hausburg is not what he seems—or perhaps exactly what he seems—he is the Devil. In Belgrade, young Princess Maria Augusta is prematurely grey, suffering from a broken heart. She, von Hausburg, three commissioners sent by the Austrian emperor, and Serbian mercenaries set out from the mist-shrouded city in search of ominous whispers in the countryside: vampires.

This literary work is told in alternating narratives through the Devil and Maria Augusta. Neither are reliable, the Devil because he is the Great Deceiver (obviously) and Maria Augusta because her narrative is a flashback viewed through an aged and hazy mind. The point-of-view shifts can be disorienting; they are in no way demarcated—one often reads a couple of paragraphs before realizing which character is speaking. These two versions of the same events diverge so widely towards the end that this multi-layered story is never completely elucidated. The vampire storyline is not the focus. Rather, it is the characterization, especially of the Devil, that fascinates; this is no superior being, but a frightened, selfish, supercilious individual who comes across as all too human.

The Devil’s narrative jumps back and forth in time with anachronistic literary allusions thrown out all over the place. A reference to Moby Dick appears while the Devil waits for Mary Magdalene in a Jerusalem tavern three days after the crucifixion—the Devil resides in no particular time or place. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the novel is the Devil’s relationship with Novak. Their verbal sparring provides both amusement and a great deal of depth. If you’re looking for a Gothic vampire tale, this isn’t the novel to provide it; come in with no expectations, and the unsolved puzzle can make for quite an enjoyable read.