REVIEW: Vlad by Carlos Fuentes

Where, Carlos Fuentes asks, is a modern-day vampire to roost? Why not Mexico City, populated by ten million blood sausages (that is, people), and a police force who won’t mind a few disappearances? “Vlad” is Vlad the Impaler, of course, whose mythic cruelty was an inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In this sly sequel, Vlad really is undead: dispossessed after centuries of mayhem by Eastern European wars and rampant blood shortages. More than a postmodern riff on “the vampire craze,” Vlad is also an anatomy of the Mexican bourgeoisie, as well as our culture’s ways of dealing with death. For–as in Dracula–Vlad has need of both a lawyer and a real-estate agent in order to establish his new kingdom, and Yves Navarro and his wife Asuncion fit the bill nicely. Having recently lost a son, might they not welcome the chance to see their remaining child live forever? More importantly, are the pleasures of middle-class life enough to keep one from joining the legions of the damned?

Warnings: Violence, Underage sexuality

Category: M/F

It’s October, and that means it’s time for vampire and horror reviews! Vlad is partially a sequel, partially a re-write of the classic vampire tale Dracula, as we follow Vlad the Impaler as he makes his move into Mexico City. Hitting many similar notes as the famed Dracula, this is a take on the familiar story that modernizes it while giving it a Mexican setting.

WRITING
The writing in this book is very punchy and irreverent. The prose has a kind of crass feeling to it, less flowery than Dracula and more gritty and in some portions embittered. The lead POV character has an interesting way of seeing the world, and his observations are often very engaging to read. The story is all quite familiar; Dracula, or in this case Vlad, is trying to move to Mexico City, and to do so he needs certain things in order for his arrival. As such he hires Yves to procure him a house to live in with his odd specifications. Yves feels something is off or strange about his new client, and the book reads like a mystery novel as his investigations lead him to gradually more and more sinister discoveries, including Vlad’s designs on his wife and child. That said, it can be a little on the dull side, as the atmospheric building is quite slow and it can feel like not a lot happens.

EMOTIONAL ENGAGEMENT
I found it rather difficult to emotionally connect with Yves, as his inner monologues are fairly bland. He has a lot of emotions, and the writing certainly does convey the slowly creeping fear he experiences as he uncovers the true horror of his foreign client, but he himself as an individual doesn’t seem all that interesting. The primary worry in his life seems to be whether his wife enjoys having sex with him or not, which of course feeds seamlessly into the vampire’s designs on seducing her away from him. But since we never really get to know her as a character, this process doesn’t really feel emotionally compelling, since he’s the only character whose experiences are explored, and really, finding out your wife has been seduced away from you by a vampire just isn’t as interesting a narrative as being seduced away from your husband by a vampire. Since all the interesting and emotionally compelling things happen off screen, it makes it harder to connect emotionally to the story since his POV is so limited.

WORLDBUILDING
The most interesting and unique thing about this narrative is the setting, as the author wanted to bring the classic vampire story and mythos to Mexico and imbue it with Mexican culture and scenery. The book explores Mexico City and the thoughts and ideas of the people who live there, and this is what sets it apart from being just a Dracula rehash. Plot-wise it’s familiar, but setting and flavour-wise it is a take that is unique from it’s inspirational material and does a lot to explore the author’s cultural background. I did find a lot of the rich aristocratic musings on the nature of life and art and beauty a bit tedious to read personally, but it’s certainly not lacking in explorations of things the author considered to be important to the setting.

STEAMINESS
While not being pornographically explicit at all, this book has some absolutely bizarre sexual content. There is a scene of lovemaking between Yves and his wife Asuncion, which is full of the kind of purple prose-y mysticism that is so common to sex scenes in non erotic novels, in which the POV character waxes philosophical about the nature of life and death and his place in the cosmos and the gardens of his wife’s thighs. But the book takes a very strange turn for the surreal when the vampires become involved in their lives. Vlad seduces Ascuncion away from him, presumably via debauchery and sex, but the real strangeness of this novel involves Yves’s daughter, who Vlad has designs on turning into a vampire as a playmate for his own vampire child. It’s hard to accurately describe how strange the scenes with this character are, but suffice to say two children shoving squirrels into their panties and getting groped by the grounds keeper who taunts the father of one of them about it is… certainly strange reading.

This was an interesting read, and if you like Dracula you may very well enjoy this take on the classic narrative. It was a hard one for me to really dig into because I found it to be a little bit too much like Dracula, plot-wise, and the sexual scenes with Yves’s daughter really weirded me out. But it’s always nice to read a vampire story centred around a truly evil and horrific monster!

Have you read Vlad? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

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