Buy Link: Embrace
Author: Megan Derr
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Rating: 4 stars
Guest Review by Sammy
He leaned in close, until his words were almost more an impression than actual sound, so close that Aubrey had only to twitch and those lips would be against his, and he hated himself for even thinking it. “Your blood I have tasted, and so to you I belong.”
I must begin by admitting to a slight fascination with vampires…no, not the Edward Cullen of Twilight type, more the mysterious, hunky, really hot kind…and Megan Derr provides me with the perfect example of just such a creature in her novel Embrace.
Embrace is set in an undetermined country during what appears to be the Victorian age. There is talk of gentry and commoners. There is an allusion to “poppy fever”—a quaint expression used to describe opiate (laudanum) addicts. And there is the most interesting concept of slaves, or “pets” as they are euphemistically called. But these pets are not human—no, these are vampires, although that name is rarely uttered when talking about one’s “pet” in good society.
The story begins with a flashback. A young boy, Aubrey, is traveling with his mother and a woman named Mina (we later come to find that Mina was his mother’s pet). While on the road, the carriage is stopped and both women get out to check on what is happening, leaving the young boy inside. By the flashback’s end, we see the boy’s father arriving to discover both women dead and his son covered in blood, but otherwise unscathed. From there we are taken to the present day and find that Aubrey’s father has summoned him home from university. Theirs is an uneasy and oft times angry relationship, with both trying to outdo one another in the obstinacy department. Also living at home is Aubrey’s sickly sister Carmilla, and his cold and sarcastic cousin, Gille.
As the story progresses, the mystery surrounding his mother’s death deepens and current odd happenings pull Aubrey further into the more sinister aspects surrounding her death. Upon arriving home, Aubrey is greeted with a gift from his father, a pet—tall, handsome, and rather self-possessed for a “slave.” Ruthven glides into Aubrey’s life, much to his dismay, for you see Aubrey despises the idea of anyone being enslaved. Add to that the fact that vampires must feed regularly off their master and that once having done so, they are tied to their master and can only drink from him/her for the rest of their existence, and we find that Aubrey is simply beside himself with anger at having been gifted with such a slave. After discovering Ruthven in his mother’s locked bedroom, Aubrey also finds evidence that his mother, Mina, AND his father were all actively pushing for the dissolution of slavery and, indeed, this is why his mother and her pet were brutally murdered. When Aubrey confronts his father and angrily insists on taking up the cause, his father forbids it and Ruthven begins a determined assault of a sensual nature to dissuade Aubrey from his projected course as well. Aubrey finds himself falling under Ruthven’s seductive spell and is unable to do anything about it.
In the meanwhile, a second story thread begins to develop concerning Gille, his estrangement from his father (twin brother to Aubrey’s father), and his sometimes sexually violent affair with the family physician, Stregoni or “Carrot” as Gille calls him. Gille too has a pet (Francois) that is jealous of the ongoing affair between Stregoni and his master. This side story weaves in and out of the main story line and is fascinating in and of itself. Gille’s father, having lost Gille’s mother in childbirth, has gone mad, is hooked on laudanum, and viciously hates his son whom he blames for the death of his wife during his birth. At one point, Stregoni rescues a similarly drugged and beaten Gille from his father’s maniacal clutches, barely escaping with their lives.
These two story lines weave in and out of one another and are exciting to read, drawing us in to their mystery, passion, and drama. Had Derr left the story just here, I am more than sure I would have given this novel a five star rating. This was a well-written mystery, taut with drama, and fun to unravel. The characters were so well defined, pulling us in, stirring our emotions and causing us to sit on the edge of our seat more than once when their lives were threatened. However, the additional storyline of an ailing sister left me disbelieving and a bit disappointed at how neatly it was resolved. As fantastical as the novel already was, her story simply did not draw me in, and, in fact, left me shaking my head at the need for its existence at all. Carmilla, Aubrey’s sister, seemed like an afterthought rather than an important piece to the overall puzzle and already dynamic storyline. Without going into great detail (for to do so would ruin the ending of the novel), I will suffice it to say that her addition to the story left me disbelieving and a little unsatisfied with its convenient resolution.
Overall, this was a minor annoyance in what was a really solid gothic romantic mystery! If you enjoy reading about this era and solving a good mystery to boot, I highly recommend this novel to you!