It’s the year 2220 when Doctor Jeremiah Banks first meets Professor Juan Di Vargas while attending the Atlanta Theological and Archaeological Conference. The two men are both fascinated with fabled the lost city of El-Abel — also called Enoch — the first city ever built. According to the book of Genesis, Enoch was built by Cain himself after his banishment from Eden and it is where he and his family lived until his death
Jeremiah used Juan’s research while working to learn the secrets of the El-Isinian language, which has allowed him to make progress in deciphering ancient tablets. Both men share a love of history and a fascination with El-Abel and it’s that shared interest that brings them together at the conference where they share a night of forbidden passion. Four years later, with only letters between them, the two men are reunited when the Vatican decides to fund an expedition to search for Enoch. Time and distance have not quenched the flames of desire between them, but there is a reason the city of Cain has been hidden for so long. There are those who do not want it found; there are those who would see this mission fail.
This book has many, many issues. The first of which is the racism with which I felt the author approaches the Middle Eastern cultures and the Muslim faith. No less than six times is it stated how the cruel and sadistic guards will gang rape young men. Never young white women, because that would defile the Muslim men, but the male graduate students traveling with Jeremiah and Juan will endlessly face the possibility of being raped. Jeremiah, in an earlier expedition, was tortured and forced to watch as his fellow students were beaten, tortured, and raped in front of him. He himself was never touched due to his plot armor but, because of the oddness of his red hair, he was forced to strip and show himself so the caliph could see if his pubic hair was the same color as the rest of him.
The writing here is simple and simplistic with irredeemably shallow and two-dimensional characters, a tangled mess of a plot, and, in several cases, confusing pages of dialogue with no indicators as to who is speaking. Some scenes have three people that turn into five and, in one scene, three characters are talking in a hallway only to have a fourth person suddenly appear with no introduction or explanation. I read the page three times and it never did make logistical sense.
There are diary entries from Cain, from the Lord Slayer who killed Cain, and from various theological sources that are used as exposition for the reader, as well as guides for the characters in their search for the lost city. Some of these flow with the story, but for the most part they are a jarring entry that could have been done with greater subtlety or sense, but instead felt like repetitive info dumps.
The characters in this book make poor decisions or make them for seemingly no reason whatsoever. When threatening the young graduate students with their eventual gang rapes — and after pointedly fondling one of the young men — Jeremiah has a moment where he considers refusing to take them into danger. These two young men don’t speak any languages from the area and know nothing of the culture or customs of the place, but in the end Jeremiah decides to take them… because. He also takes Juan with him even though Juan has no training in fieldwork. When presented with a letter from the vampire Pope — oh yes, there are no less than three named religious orders, filled with vampires, who are involved with trying to help or hinder the quest for the lost city, and the Pope is a vampire — telling them to trust the man who handed it to them, they both shrug and go along with it. They have no proof, have never met Pope Joan, and don’t believe in vampires, but it’s a letter, so they have to go along with it. They never get smarter.
In the year 2220, the United States has fallen apart with new countries and republics filling in the void. One such, the Republic of Texas, is where Jeremiah calls home. It’s a restrictive place where gay relationships are either punishable, frowned upon, or unpopular — restrictions that are also in play around the world, I think? It’s never made completely clear, just intimated — so much so that Jeremiah and Juan have to hide their love for one another. Not that it matters because everyone in the book knows they’re together. And I do mean everyone. There is not a single person in this book, vampire or human, that doesn’t seem to know of their relationship.
Then there are the vampires and the mages. Cain being the father of vampires isn’t a new concept, and in this book it isn’t done very well. These vampires neither feel like monsters, fallen angels, or demi-gods. Instead, they feel like cheap monsters from a fantasy book where, with a wave of a vampire lord’s hand, dozens of vampires die. Bodies turn instantly into dust unless you want to wave a head around dramatically, then the head stays flesh until it’s no longer needed, then it’s dust. No vampire acts like any other vampire is strong or frightening or powerful, which left me not able to view any of them as strong, frightening, or powerful. There is no emotional weight to them, no reaction to them by anyone — vampire or human — that implies that they’re anything interesting at all.
There are two main plot lines in this book running alongside each other with the first being Jeremiah and Juan’s search for the lost city and the second being the two or three vampire factions trying to either help them find El-Abel or stop them. The plots are the one thing in the book that almost worked, but while the idea was there, the execution wasn’t. There seemed to be no reason for the vampires to care if the city is found or not. Their conflicts and adventures in vampire-murder felt like they belonged in a different book because they added almost nothing to this one.
I would, ordinarily, take a moment somewhere in the review to talk about the relationship between the two characters, but there isn’t one. There are a handful of sex scenes that take the place of a relationship, but with characters this static and flat and undeveloped there can’t be a relationship. Instead it’s just Juan and Jeremiah and eventually Colum in bed, not bothering to hide their sexual activities even though homosexual relations are bad in this world.
Other than the blatant racism and lack of well-developed characters, the greatest failure in this book is its ending. Or lack thereof. To put it simply, there is no ending to this book. The characters who have spent so much time searching for this city, with their expedition sponsored by the Vatican and the vampire Pope, with so much money being spent, who have seen people die, who have put their years of research and reputations on the line… just shrug and go home. That’s it. Everyone turns around and goes back the way they came and the book’s done.
Not a single character in this book had an emotional reaction to anything. No event in this book had a consequence. Nothing that happened mattered. It felt like no thought was put into what makes a vampire or how and why vampires work and no study was done into archaeology, Mesopotamian history, Muslim faith, or Middle Eastern cultures. Instead, it’s a long slog of poor writing (though the writing does slightly improve by the end of the book) and nonsensical events. I felt like my time was wasted and this book isn’t recommended.