Descent Into Dust
Published 2010 359 pages
Summary (from the book jacket)
Twenty-three year old widow Emma Andrews grew up in the shadow of her mother’s madness, so when she arrives at Dulwich Manor in the midst of a plague and soon thereafter begins to see apparitions, her family fears her fate has finally caught up with her. But one guest amongst them knows Emma’s visions are more than a trick of the mist. Valerian Fox has hunted the great vampire lord Marius through time and continents, and he knows that Emma’s senses are heightened by a legacy that runs through her blood.
When Emma’s young cousin is marked for death, Emma and Valerian must disregard propriety to prepare for battle. Poised at the intersection of life and death, uncertain of who she can trust, Emma finds that in order to save the most innocent among them she must embrace the inheritance she has feared and denied.
Jacqueline Lepore’s Gothic vampire novel Descent Into Dust is the first book of a proposed series featuring Emma Andrews, dhampir and Victorian lady. Jacqueline Lepore is the pen name for established historical romance author Jacqueline Navin, who delivers a highly readable Gothic vampire novel under her new pen name.
Descent Into Dust is an “old school” vampire novel. Set in Victorian England it tells the tale of Emma Andrews, a widowed English gentlewoman who finds sinister doings when she arrives to visit her cousin at her remote country home, Dulwich Manor. The child of the house, Henrietta, has a creepy new imaginary friend called Marius but Emma can see him too – so she knows that Marius isn’t a benign figment of Henrietta’s childish imagination. Soon Emma can feel the taint of evil spreading across the countryside and into Dulwich Manor but she appears to be powerless to stop Marius’s creeping menace. Or is she?
Descent Into Dust is narrated in first person by Emma. She makes a likeable enough heroine as she tells readers her story. From her fears of succumbing to her mother’s madness (not an unrealistic fear given that she can see and hear things that nobody else can) to her discovery that a vampire is preying on the inhabitants of the villages around Dulwich Manor. Along the way she finds out that her mother wasn’t mad but was a vampire – making Emma herself a dhampir and the natural enemy of all vampires.
Emma’s behaviour is always fitting with her role as a Victorian gentlewoman, so forget any pre-conceived notions that you may have about vampire slaying dhampirs. Unlike her urban fantasy counterparts Emma doesn’t immediately take to drinking hard liquor, wearing leather pants, strapping on stakes or guns and trying to prove she is tougher than tough. She accepts her duty to protect humankind from the machinations of evil vampires with equanimity – her outlook no doubt conditioned from years of feeling like an outsider within her own family, who have always watched her closely for signs that she may have inherited her mother’s insanity. She impatiently embroiders baby clothes with her pregnant sister while she secretly worries about how she can defeat the vampire that is preying upon the household – and her character is realistic and believable as a result.
The Gothic style setting of Descent Into Dust shouldn’t fail to satisfy fans of the “old school” style vampire fiction. The story ticks all the right boxes with its creeping menace, hidden secrets, stormy nights and malignant vampire evil. There is also a romance element in the story. This is handled with a light touch (again in keeping with the time period of the story) and it rounds out the story nicely.
Overall Descent Into Dust is a good example of a Gothic style vampire novel. Personally I only had a couple of gripes with the story both to do with the background setting. The first is early on in the book when Emma takes Henrietta out for a walk to a nearby meadow. Emma describes the long grass on a number of occasions and goes as far as to describe it as “hip-high”. Since the book is set in England in rainy early March the reality of walking in a meadow is likely to be ankle-deep mud – long grass being a far off dream of summer. Next Emma is playing croquet and dining al-fresco – again this is out of keeping with an English March and her own descriptions of an unusually cold, stormy spring.
Another inconsistency is Emma’s assertion that “Vampires cannot emerge in the daylight… I mean everyone knows this… the legends.” Actually at the time setting of the book (1862) “everyone” knew no such thing. The spontaneous combustion of vampires in sunlight is an invention of 20th century vampire movies. At the time setting of this book commonly held vampire beliefs said that vampires could go out in day. Truthfully, this was probably only noticeable for me because I have just finished reading “Bite: A Vampire Handbook” and vampire myth is currently fresh in my mind – other wise its fair to say I wouldn’t have noticed it so much!
However, don’t be put off by my griping and nit-picking. Descent Into Dust is a welcome return to classic Gothic style vampire fiction – a sub-genre that has been most overlooked of late – and as such this hugely enjoyable book is well worth reading.
Recommended reading for vampire fans who like their vampires reassuringly evil!
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Find out more about the Emma Andrews series and read chapter one of this book at the author’s website. Visit Jacqueline’s website.