This book is described in the publicity as ‘genre breaking’ and the ‘first Napoleonic historical vampire novel’. I do not propose to discuss the question of genre here, a topic fraught with danger. Let it suffice to say that the premise of the novel, that a special unit of vampires was recruited by Russia in 1812 to fight the invading French is, to say the least, intriguing. ‘They’re like cannon,’ says one of the main characters, ‘all you have to do is point them at the enemy’. Add to this the fact that there are twelve of them, called after the twelve apostles, and we know that we must suspend our disbelief. Yet preposterous as all this may sound, Jasper Kent draws us into the world he creates, and by the end of the book he succeeds in turning the whole vampire myth inside out.
First there is a question about the morality of war and whether any weapon is justified in defeating the enemy, even if that weapon is a vampire. Forget about depleted uranium shells, forget about biological warfare; vampires can be even more deadly. It seems they not only drink blood in order to stay alive, or rather, undead, they also need flesh— human of course. ‘Well, we have to eat’, one of them informs us with unassailable logic. And when there are no Frenchmen available, Russians will do.
The book explores the deepest and darkest aspects of the myth. What exactly is the attraction of vampirism? And why would some people willingly become vampires? Though the dialogue lacks period flavour and sounds at times a little bit too modern, the historical background is good, and the story keeps moving and is full of surprises. The biggest surprise of all comes at the end. And that is how it should be in both the vampire and the historical genres. All in all, a very good read.