The Vampire Genevieve
In what was perhaps a fit of madness, I decided to follow The Eisenhorn Omnibus with some more Black Library fiction; this time a Warhammer classic, The Vampire Genevieve. I generally take any review of a Warhammer novel with a generous pinch of salt, but I'd heard a lot of good things about this series, and had seen them advertised in White Dwarf magazine since I started playing, so decided to give them a go.
The results, of course, were mixed. But then what was I really expecting?
The first thing to note is that the books were not at all what I was expecting. The blurb of the anthology, "Evil has a new enemy… one of its own.", as well as past experience of Black Library novels, suggested something in the vein of Robert E. Howard to me. Drachenfels, however, is actually more of a mystery story than straight up Sword and Sorcery. The plot primarily follows a theatre company, on their journey to stage a dramatic reproduction of the defeat of an evil enchanter several decades ago. Their stage? The abandoned castle of said enchanter. On the way, of course, strange portents begin to appear and unnatural occurrences become commonplace, but there is little of the direct conflict of armies clashing in the field that is so common in other Warhammer novels.
Despite the slight differences in genre, however, the characters are very much in the same vein as, say, Gotrek & Felix, and one would be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that the whole world was populated by distant relations of Blackadder's Lord Flashheart. Thighs were constantly being slapped, bawdy jokes recited, and it was perhaps the most licentious book I've read. Ordinarily, this is far, far from my cup of tea, but somehow it doesn't feel so crass here.
This is all probably down to Yeovil's writing. It doesn't drag, the pacing is good, and the dialogue sounds like the kind of thing that real, albeit rather pompous and egotistical, people might actually say; a bit like being out with Henry VIII and his mates for a night on the town. The overall effect is to make it feel like the flaws and vices of the characters are their own, rather than the usual state of wondering whether they are the author's own prejudices leaking out or just plain bad writing; the cast of Drachenfels are larger than life caricatures, but they all have a core of real person beneath.
Not at all what I would usually choose to read, but I found myself just invested enough in the characters and plot to follow Drachenfels through to the end, and actually enjoy myself on the journey. Not my favourite book by any means, but very impressive considering what it might have been in the hands of a less talented author.
The second book in the series, Genevieve Undead, was broadly similar to the first. The plot was a bit more all over the place, but once again the writing was good enough to retain my interest. A ridiculous sequence in an enchanted mansion, where the guests are made to be actors in the melodrama of the house's owner, was so ridiculously over the top that in most other books I would have hated it, but here? Somehow, it worked. The lack of cohesion between sections worked against it, but overall it was still a book I enjoyed reading.
Beasts in Velvet, however was truly, truly awful. The plot, a race to catch a serial killer preying on the women of the town, was thin to the point of invisibility and unthinkingly misogynistic. One of the main characters was present only because his name was meant to throw readers off the scent of the real killer and it really felt like Yeovil was completely out of ideas and adding things in only to hit a pre-agreed word count.
In many respects, this was a huge shame, as a few of the characters were genuinely interesting and could have carried the novel if been given a chance to shine. I do wonder whether this might have been some other story, hastily expanded and rewritten because of the popularity of the previous two novels, as Genevieve Dieudonne, the titular character of the series, appears for about two paragraphs.
I did soldier on to the end, in the hopes that it would improve, but alas it did not and I feel like those hours were wasted.
The rest of the anthology comprised of several short stories featuring the characters from the main books. None of them were as good as the first two novels but, fortunately, none wer quite as bad as the third, either. At one or two moments it felt like Yeovil was going to return to previous form, but it never quite happened.
Overall, it was quite a disappointing experience. Black Library books are always too long, and this was one of the worst offenders. Beasts in Velvet was fairly distasteful, but the first two books were quite enjoyable in parts, despite their rather base humour. Some of Yeovil's characters were deep and likeable, and his prose on occasion can be quite beautiful, but it wasn't consistent enough for me to be able to recommended unreservedly.