Michail Konstantinovich Lukin had to become a judge when he was just a child. His mother, Tamara Danilova, was playing the role of a prosecutor but the whole trial was pretty serious. Together they condemned to death a vampire calling himself, among other aliases, Iuda, the murderer of his grandfather, Aleksey Danilov. Then Michail was trained how to become a hangman.
The adult Mihail, a military engineer, gets in touch with a group of people calling themselves “The People’s Will”. They want to assassinate the tzar but Michail is more interested in their leader who happens to be, like Iuda, a vampire and also his uncle, Dimitry. Michail hopes that somehow he might find the whereabouts of Iuda by joining that group and, fortunately for him, the revolutionists need an explosives expert who can supervise digging a tunnel under a street, preparing a deadly trap for the tzar.
That’s how Michail gets in touch with Zmyevich – nobody else but Count Drakula, the oldest and the most devious vampire around, who happens to cooperate with Iuda for the time being. Still is any human really prepared to face his vampire nemesis?
I really like this series and its vampires. This part wasn’t a bad read as well but I had some issues with it, which were non-existent in the case of previous novels. Why? Maybe because its structure was a bit different or because it seemed to be a classic ‘filler’ – a book in the middle of a series which has to be written but can’t progress, plot-wise, very quickly as it must leave some area untouched for the final installment.
The backstory of Iuda/Iudin/Richard Llevellyn Cain (the main baddie vampire) was interesting, sometimes even fascinating, a study of evil, nothing less. Iuda would make a perfect Nazi monster: he was a man who never felt any pangs of conscience. No matter how many murders he committed it was never exactly his fault. Still, in my humble opinion, his story didn’t mix well with the main narration. Add to it the backstory of Michail Konstantinovich Lukin/Danilov, who often got back in time, reminiscing about his late mother, Tamara, or even of his grandfather, Lyosha Danilov, and you get a slow-paced book which, despite being rather thick, gives little new information and few plot twists, just meandering to and fro.
When it comes to the characters, I regret to say nobody came near to Tamara Danilova, one of the best leads if not actually the best main lead of the series so far. Dusya, the revolutionary agent and the shifty lover of Michail, was an interesting creation but it seems the author lacked time to build her character up properly. It was never revealed what made her tick and her actions were often contrary. Did she really love Iuda? Did she want to become a vampire so badly? How she got in touch with him at all? I don’t expect to find any answers to those questions because I am pretty sure we won’t be seeing Dusya in the final novel and in this one there were too many back stories to fit one more in.
Of course there were things which still worked for me and they worked well. I simply adored the fact that Michail had been prepared to fight Zmyevich and Iuda in a truly professional way. I was also very happy that his stalwart and intelligent mother never lied to him in order to ‘shelter him’ from the ugly truth or ‘to prolong his childhood’ – that’s why, despite being just a young man of 23, he knew who his opponents were, how to recognize them and what to expect from them; he knew what weapons would be most effective so the readers were saved the tedium of the main character rediscovering the wheel.
The atmosphere of Russia during the reign of the last tzars was rendered impeccably. I especially enjoyed the description of the Petersburg’s monuments and the influence of Dostoyevski over the common people and the rulers as well, a nice touch indeed.
Finally I liked the way Dimitry was portrayed. If you haven’t read the series: Dimitry is the son of Lyosha Danilov (a guy with whom the series started) and the half-brother of Tamara, so Michail’s uncle. He is also a vampire, tricked to become one by a beautiful vampiress he loved. After her death he’s been missing her terribly (to an extend vampires can miss anybody of course, they are pretty detached creatures) and overall, he doesn’t know what to do with his vampirism, suffering by a kind of mal de l’âme (depression). The effect is encouraging and I am looking forward to meeting him again!
In my humble opinion the weakest part of an otherwise excellent series. Still, if you are, like me, hooked, you’ll read it anyway and won’t regret it. The background of Iuda is a great story, although not exactly an edifying one, reminding me a bit of Hannibal Lecter. I also hope Michail will become an interesting hero – in the final part.
The series so far: