Review by Ulysses Dietz
Member of The Paranormal Guild Review Team
What if vampirism was contagious?
I loved this book. I don’t give five stars easily, but everything about Jordan Castillo Price’s “Hemovore” was good. I am a big fan of her “PsyCop” series, and that same slightly dark sensibility carries over into this tale. Price’s skill at building a narrative structure and peopling it with characters who evolve and grow on you is tremendous. Bit by bit, she draws you into her story and makes you care. But she’s subtle. It is not flowery nor overtly passionate. This is a quiet, slow burn, and very effective.
We’re in a recognizable modern-day Chicago, with one significant exception. The HHV virus has altered the way we live. Like the HIV virus, HHV (Human Hemovore Virus) often kills. But those who survive become preternaturally strong and long-lived, acquire an intense sensitivity to sunlight, and need blood to survive. They become vampires.
Mark Hansen has been the personal assistant to Hungarian-American artist Jonathan Vargas for four years. He does everything for Jonathan, he has his routine down pat. Mark is V-negative, and Jonathan is V-positive, so Mark must take great care not to get infected. Needless to say, this has made Mark’s crush on his boss something of a hurdle. However, after four years, Mark handles it just fine, keeping his emotions in check and his health protected. What Mark doesn’t recognize is that he has isolated himself in his devotion to Jonathan. He has just turned forty, and he has no friends, no social life. But that doesn’t register for Mark: he’s just doing his job, and his job is demanding.
When things start to go sideways, Mark’s carefully constructed world rapidly disintegrates. A piece of Jonathan’s Eastern European past reappears in Chicago and the two men find themselves on the run for their lives. The distance Mark has maintained between himself and his employer crumbles, and his true feelings for Jonathan start to mix with the fear of the dark force that pursues them.
I really don’t want to go into any more detail, for fear of spoiling the fun. And it is fun, just not romantic in the way one might expect. There is a real emotional restraint throughout the narrative that is intended to be slightly frustrating. The passion in Price’s prose is carefully controlled. For all his intense feelings, Mark is unsure. Having kept himself in check for so long, he has never explored how Jonathan might feel; and Jonathan, respecting Mark’s professional position and his V-negative status, has kept to himself.
Hiding from a psychotic killer is hardly the most conducive setting for sharing one’s feelings, and Price keeps the strings taut as the plot unspools. The story is full of wry humor, lightening the mood and giving added flavor to the action.
Underneath it all runs a current that will resonate particularly with gay readers: the homophobia that runs parallel to the fear of vampires and their virus. Price has given us a world that has adapted to the presence of both gay men and vampires, but it has adapted grudgingly, out of necessity, not out of any sort of acceptance.
Price has added a novelette at the end of this, called “Sweet.” Written as a coda for the new edition of “Hemovore,” this story is completely unnecessary, but totally charming, with the same kind of humor that pervades the novel itself. For those of us who want a dose of romance of a more traditional kind, it is a lovely dessert.
Vampires are near and dear to me, as I invented my own fictional vampire, Desmond Beckwith, back in the 1980s. I am always happy and interested to see how other authors make this classic genre new. Jordan Castillo Price has done something fascinating and creative, and it was a pleasure to read from the first page.