This week, I come to you with a lesson in expectation.
Hemovore is a book that’s been showing up on my suggested reads for some time. I decided to give it a shot because, as I have mentioned before, I have a weakness for gay vampires. And ultimately, Hemovore disappointed me.
It’s not that this is a bad book. Far from it, in fact. Hemovore contains a well constructed world, where vamprism is the result of a virus contagious via any infected fluid. The writing is clean and easy to follow. It’s got great pacing divided between action and tender moments of character growth. It features a relationship both very sweet and fascinating in the issues it addresses. There’s actually a lot to recommend this book.
But it just doesn’t feel much like a vampire book to me. In spite of the sexy pale men with aversion to sunlight. In spite of all the blood drinking. For me, something was missing from Hemovore. And when I realized that, I had a good think on just what it is I expect out of vampires.
The first thing is a sense of seduction. I like vampires who are alluring and hypnotic. If I’m craving vampires, I’m craving some seduction. There wasn’t really an seduction in this book. The characters both care about each other deeply from the start, so the relationship that develops over the course of the book is much more of a discussion than a seduction for anyone. Which I really, really like, but wasn’t what I was expecting.
Also, this novel has no sexy biting. No biting at all really. If you can’t have seduction in a vampire novel, you ought to at least have sexy biting. There’s blood sharing, but all via syringes and a little clinical.
In general, Hemovore doesn’t read like a supernatural or urban fantasy. Yes, there are vampires and they have super strength. Towards the end, we get some nifty vampiric powers showing up. But there’s minimal magic in this world, just a fair amount of “This world works like x, we’re not going to bring in science to explain it, either you’re buying the world works like x or you’re not.” The first two thirds of the book reads much more like a social science fiction or a spy thriller. Not that these are bad things, but again. Expectations. The book did not meet my expectations. These were not the vampires I was looking for.
That said, let’s talk about the book that I did actually read!
As I mentioned, there’s a lot of things going on Hemovore that I really liked and found fascinating. The relationship resonated with me, as the two characters have worked together for years, the kind of close work where it basically feels like they live together, even if they each keep their own apartment. Both are attracted to each other, but neither speaks of this fact or does anything about it. The reason being, Jonathan Varga is V positive (a vampire) and Mark Jensen is not infected. Catching the virus that causes vamprism ends in a painful, unsexy death without a second try for 85% of the people who catch it. Therefore, as attractive as they find each other, neither is going to do anything about it, because the risks are too high. They keep things distant, boss and employee, both pretending that’s all they are toe ach other.
And then, things change. A series of events are set off that make them both re-evaluate their relationship and what they want out.
Ultimately, this is a novel about intimacy. Physical intimacy is difficult, nearly impossible without spreading the disease. The virus dies quickly when exposed to open air, but can survive several hours in fluid outside the body. Sexual contact spreads the disease. Kissing spreads the disease. Sharing a glass can spread the disease. Your partner drooling in their sleep could even spread the disease. Basically, vamprism is like mono, only deadly. The parallels with HIV are obvious, especially since the book features gay protagonists.
Unable to have normal physical intimacy weighs heavily on both characters’ minds, especially as they open up to admit the very real affection and desire between them. They fight with whether they can make this work or if they’re just setting themselves up for disappointment. How much of themselves can they share with each other, when so many things stand between them.
My favorite part of the novel is when our protagonists spend a few days with some mixed positive/negative couples and we get to see what kind of a lifestyle they have to live. Separate bathrooms. A latex curtain between them when they sleep. I wish that our protagonists had spent a little longer here, discussing and negotiating if the two of them could handle it. Instead, the story moves on to a different, and inevitable, phase of the relationship. Still, I am a freak and really like complicated and awkward negotiations.
Honestly, I wonder how necessary some of these precautions are, just how infections the virus is. It isn’t so contagious that it spreads via a positive sneezing, or else they’d all have to wear face masks. Fun fact, mono CAN spread via sneezing, though it isn’t common. Mono is less contagious than the common cold and I get the feeling that the hemovore virus is less contagious than mono, but more contagious than HIV. Which means that while unprotected sex is definitely out unless you’re willing to die, some of the other precautions taken might be extreme. Considering the climate of suspicion and paranoia around the virus (it’s only been rampant in the USA for ten years), the extreme measures make sense.
And hey, better safe than sorry, when sorry means the person who loves you enough to live in this ridiculous lifestyle ends up dying horrible in a matter of months if you’re not safe.
Anyway, digression aside, it’s a fun book. Hemovore contains little explicit sex (one scene), but has the careful unfolding of a meaningful relationship with lots of action and suspense to drive the story forward. Worth a read, just check your vampiric expectations at the door and you’ll enjoy it a lot more.