Everyone wants to believe they’re special, that the universe has some grand destiny in mind just for them. Everyone wants to be the hero of the story, not the sidekick. For Duncan, life was a series of mundanities. Wake up, go to work, come home, and go to sleep. He had a place to live, a car to drive, friends to talk to. What he didn’t have was a purpose. Until he met Her. Until he had a chance to become something better, something more. Something special.
Duncan found himself driving from his home in Las Vegas to San Jose and he couldn’t quite say why, any more than he could explain how someone paid for his lunch or how he knew he had an appointment in the Los Alto Hills. But he did. Duncan and a handful of other people of all walks of life, genders, backgrounds, and ethnicities found themselves waiting for dinner in the lavish mansion of Madame de Exter. Something about the house, the food, and the omnipresent smell of roses and vanilla called to Duncan in a way he couldn’t explain, but when offered the chance to leave (with a not quite modest check for his trouble), he couldn’t — wouldn’t — take it.
Something in Julia called to him. Some part of her reached into his soul and made him feel… whole. Special. Loved and wanted and needed in a way no one ever had before. Duncan stayed and life changed. He was given suits he couldn’t dream of affording, meals he’d only ever seen served in the best restaurants, and a room larger than his apartment back in Vegas. Wherever he went, Amanda and Julia made certain he wanted for nothing. Nothing but answers.
It wasn’t Julia who let the cat out of the bag. It was the dark and enigmatic Victor who flung it at him like a challenge: “You have a choice to make, become a vampire or stay human.” The red wine Julia drank wasn’t wine. The smell of vanilla and roses wasn’t simply the many bouquets around the house; it was the smell of a powerful Vampire. The influence and power she wielded wasn’t simply because she was rich, but because she was the vampire in charge of the North America. The offer of immortality was real, the chance to become an immortal was real, and Duncan — as one of only a handful of humans who had felt Julia’s powerful summons — had been chosen to be the one. The individual chosen to be Julia’s first fledgling. It was an invitation Duncan accepted wholeheartedly.
For me The Calling lies somewhere between a good book and a great book. The world is lush and rich and the politics of Neu’s vampires are suitably complex and cruel. Half of the story is taken up with the creation of the this world, the discussion of politics and history as seen through the immortal eyes of vampires. It’s nice to see a book take the time to reinvent how vampires are made. It’s not just a bite on the neck and a good night’s sleep; it’s instead a drawn out process of ritual, spectacle, and magic.
In this world there are two vampiric factions, the Dark and the Light. It’s not so simple or simplistic as good versus evil, though. It’s more two factions with conflicting ideologies. Those who call themselves Light put forth a Call to summon likely fledgling vampires to them and offer them the choice to be turned or not. Those on the side of Dark will, instead, simply turn the person they think needs to be or deserves to be a vampire. It’s more chaos versus order, with possibilities for members of both sides to be good or bad depending on personal morals.
Each vampire has, once they are fully marked, a gift. Julia can manipulate the emotions of others, soothing Duncan or making people more cheerful for a party. Victor has a telekinetic gift. Others might light fires, cast illusions, or hide in the shadows. A second small addition to the vampires of this world is scent. Julia smells like vanilla and roses, others smell like sandalwood or rain or cedar. With all the carefully thought out world building — such as explaining how it was that one vampire came to rule over all of North America — Neu’s vampires feel rich and powerful and old. I believe them as preternaturally strong and powerful beings.
The story fails a bit, for me, in the characters of Duncan and the mysterious Kirtus. The book is written with a first person point of view, which puts us firmly, and only, in Duncan’s thoughts. While Duncan isn’t a bad person, he’s also not a terribly introspective one. Rightly so he’s more interested in Julia and the other vampires than himself as a person, and because he’s in the situation of being both a student and a child of Julia, he spends more of the book reacting and watching rather than taking any direct actions on his own. It leaves him a little vague, personality wise.
During the marking ceremony, Duncan begins to have visions of a green and grey eyed man who makes his heart race and, even though their touches are confined to dreams and hallucinations, gives him amazing orgasms. He can hear his voice, but can’t quite see his face, and it isn’t until after his second mark that he learns that the man in his dreams — the man he’s falling in love with — is Kirtus, a vampire cast out of the Light and only marginally accepted by the Dark. Unfortunately, because of the plot and the attempts on Julia’s life and Duncan’s, the flirtation with Kirtus takes a back seat. The book is well poised for a sequel and hopefully that sequel will give Duncan and Kirtus more time to talk to each other as people and for a less one-sided relationship to form.
As for the plot, without giving too much away, it’s very cleverly handled. You can read my opinions in the spoiler or avoid them as you please, but I have no major nit-picks for the plot at all.
The prime villain of the story is a witch who Duncan sees in his visions as a dark and ugly hag. This is not what the witch looks like at all, but because the visions are filtered through Duncan’s eyes, for most of the story the big bad is only ever described as an ugly woman. It makes the reveal more interesting when we finally get to see the Witch, and I appreciate the thought that went into not only what the visions would be, but how a clairvoyant character would interpret them.
Every character in this book acts like a thinking person. There are no moments where the plot drives a character into doing something they wouldn’t do just for convenience. Duncan’s visions are handled well and the breadcrumbs leading up to the reveal at the end make sense. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t quite like the Big Bad. It’s a small thing, and a very personal one. Because so much detail and care had gone into the creation of this world and the crafting of not only vampires, but their culture, the rather cliched mustache-twirling villain just felt a sloppy and careless.
I very much enjoyed the world building and the work that went into the vampires as people. The ancient vampires felt mature to me. Julia, who was old enough to have witnessed the fall of Rome, didn’t act like a teenager or a twenty-something and there were times where she did come across as rather inhuman. The plot was fair, the pacing was a little slow — but I don’t mind a slow burning book — and the writing was good. The only issue I had with this book was the lack of time spent to developing the relationship between Duncan and Kirtus. I still recommend this book to fans of vampires and will be keeping my eyes open for a sequel.