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Children of the Night

Dan Simmons

GP Putnam Hardcover

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-399-13717-3

Publiation Date: 07-1992

382 pages; $21.95

Date Reviewed: 07-1992

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2002



Horror, Science Fiction

01-25-02,02-14-02,03-18-02, 04-15-02, 05-30-02, 10-08-02, 02-25-03, 04-30-03, 10-22-03, 10-29-03

The voice of the vampire -- powerful, unscrupulous, passionate -- is arguably the most enjoyable aspect of any vampire novel. That's why Anne Rice's romantic outcasts, who speak so eloquently, have captured the imaginations of so many readers. But not every writer sees the vampire as does Anne Rice.

Dan Simmons' "Children of the Night" begins in the political nightmare of post-Ceaucescu Romania. Narrator Vernon Trent is a billionaire leading an "International Assessment Contingent" on a tour of terror through a landscape as bleak as that of Nazi Germany. While it might be hard to believe that events already fading from our sound-byte size memories could be this horrific, Simmons sucks you in and makes you believe. "In Sibu, we found the hidden children...The AIDS ward was behind four sets of locked doors. There were no nurses there, no adults of any kind. Neither were there cribs..." Like a cockroach burrowing into a corpse, Trent seems to feed on this banquet of misery. Then he reveals himself to be a vampire, and not just any vampire, but Dracula himself. It's not a particularly terrifying revelation. In fact, it dilutes the power of the political horror that has preceded, rather than punching it up.

But Simmons' follow-up is at first disappointing. He switches to the third-person narration of Kate Neumann, a "brilliant hematologist" sent to Romania to help alleviate the suffering left in the wake of Ceaucescu's terrors. Her skills are challenged by an abandoned infant with a blood disease that requires regular blood transfusions. Simmons comes up with a remarkably convincing Robin Cook-style medical definition of this condition that explains vampirism. But his main character, Kate Neumann, doesn't easily connect with the reader; she's a remote scientist who adopts the infant and returns to America. When the infant is kidnapped, Neumann returns to Romania to retrieve him. At this point the novel loses its speculative momentum and takes off as a thriller. But while we certainly hope that Kate will save the baby, readers will be more interested in hearing what Dracula has to say.

Simmons states that he has researched Dracula's life, and it shows. In first-person interludes sprinkled throughout the thriller, he captures the brutal brilliance that foreshadowed Ceaucescu four centuries before he was born. "I remember with a joy that not even such oceans of time have been able to dim, that Easter Sunday of 1457. I had invited the boyars -- those noble couples who felt that I ruled at their pleasure -- to a great feast in Tirgoviste. It was a beautiful spring day, warmer than most. The sky was a deep and terrible blue. I remember that the boyars cheered me, their ladies waving lace handkerchiefs....I doffed my plumed cap in response to their cheers. It was the signal my soldiers were awaiting. The oldest boyars and their wives I ordered impaled on the stakes I had readied outside the city walls..." Dan Simmons has created a strong and stirring voice in which to speak, a voice that gives this novel enormous power in the end. For while the thriller elements of this novel are tense and well-described, it is the voice of the vampire that readers will remember.