All the world expects a man bearing the title Lord Aviemore to have a touch more…polish. Despite being the owner of a large estate in Glenroe, Scotland, Alec MacCarthy has grease under his nails because he restores classic cars for a living. Whatever he may earn, Alec only spends enough of his wages to ensure his meagre living quarters–formerly the kitchen of the estate–are livable. Elsewhere, Alec judiciously applies tarpaulins or plywood to keep the elements at bay. After all, there is only so much one man can do for an estate he keeps out of sheer spite for his father. Besides, being the lord of an unkept estate largely keeps sightseers away, a blessing for a man who wants to run from a failed relationship and to lick his wounds in private. For all intents and purposes, it is the perfect place to stay away from the public for a very long time.
It takes Alec’s best friend, Meg, begging for him to be her escort at a networking event for Alec to actually leave his decaying sanctuary. Being among the mega wealthy for an evening reminds Alec of so many reasons why he is loath to admit his title: the others all assume Alec is just as content as they are to indulge every desire. While Alec is not above taking a hit of cocaine or hooking up with one of Meg’s future client’s very hot associates, he draws the line at drinking the blood of a so-called haemophile. Especially when the party’s host has a haemophile strapped to a gurney and barely kept alive just so that same haemophile can supply them with blood that is arguably more potent than any drug. Alec refuses to imbibe and, while the rest of the party goers enjoy the pleasurable effects, he feels compelled to secretly return to the haemophile. Alec ends up giving the being a much-needed pouch of blood; but Alec’s actions are not without consequences. A man ends up dead and Alec ends up prisoner in his own home with the haemophile hiding in Alec’s cellar. What’s more, a monumental snowstorm has trapped the two together. Over the course of several days, Alec will have to contend with what he does and doesn’t know about the haemophiliac race so newly revealed to humans–and dangerously misunderstood. But what he discovers is that, sometimes, being different can bring two people closer together than they thought possible.
Blood Winter is author S.J. Coles’ take on vampires in contemporary times. It features first person narration from Alec MacCarthy’s perspective. The character is arguably “not like everyone else.” Some of his differences are very plainly incorporated into him: he is, nominally at least, a lord; he lives in an (albeit crumbling) estate; he likes living well apart from nearly every single other human and does not mind having spotty means of connecting to the people he does like; and he refuses to see haemophiles as animals or things. I can appreciate that all this together does set Alec apart from so-called average people. All these aspects of Alec were fine, but I was particularly interested in far less explicated elements of Alec as a character. Specifically: why he has a record of assault and battery (brought up when an antagonist tries to leverage that fact against Alec in hopes of blackmailing Alec into selling his estate); and why he seems to have experienced significant weight loss (which I assume is due to emotional upheaval, but…). The former receives no other details beyond the fact that he has a police record. The latter is, I assume, about Alec’s relationship with David. David is Meg’s brother and he crops up here and there in the story, but I got the impression their relationship was long over…meaning I wasn’t entirely sure the weight loss was somehow tied to David (which does get fleshed out a bit on-page) or if it was from something else (in which case, it does not get fleshed out on-page). All told, I found I was very interested in knowing more about Alec’s history and how that might motivate him to befriend the haemophile.
And speaking of the haemophile in the story, his name is Terje. One of the big “tells” that Alec is different is that Alec immediately assigns human pronouns to Terje. This seems to be very out-of-sync with society at large, though, because the whole book is first person from Alec’s perspective, it was hard to appreciate this difference even when Coles goes out of her way to make other characters ridicule Alec’s use of pronouns. As a character, I thought Terje was rather appealing. He’s definitely got the mystique of being a vampire working in his favor. Like Alec, Terje seems to have a backstory that pokes through the plot here and there. Most notably his relationship with the other haemophiles who live in his commune and how that commune is organized socially. There was also the mention of Terje having previously been involved in some capacity with a human, a fact that could potentially cause jealousy in Alec and/or consternation from Terje’s commune. I enjoyed learning about haemophiles through Terje’s interactions and reactions to being snowbound in a decrepit house with Alec.
I would say one of the biggest themes in the book is overcoming differences. Clearly, our two love interests are trying to figure out what they want versus what they can have from one another. The biggest stumbling block is Terje feeling like Alec is merely reacting to the powerful effect of haemophiliac blood, rather than Alec actually feeling true emotion for Terje. I really liked that this aspect of their being in the same space is not wielded as a tool for melodrama or for Terje to angst over. Rather, it is simply a fact Terje wants/needs Alec to understand. Another difference (though more between THIS vampire mythology and more generic mythology) is that, although we know very clearly that Terje needs to drink human blood to survive, he himself never asks Alec for blood nor takes Alec’s blood when Alec offers. It seems like a human offering blood to a haemophile is somehow taboo amongst Terje’s people, but it wasn’t explained why or what would happen if Alec did so. Between the acknowledged effect haemophiliac blood has on humans and how Terje and especially Alec feel about each other, there seemed to be a massive slow burn with an almost desperate taste of unrequited emotion growing between the two. Personally, I really appreciated how often Terje points out that he does not feel emotions like humans do. And even though the physiological elements of sexual desire seem similar, it is literally a slow burn to even get a haemophile sexually aroused. Despite all this, Alec and Terje have some chemistry…though it is often colored with a bit of “so what.” Again, I just really liked that these two are clearly occupying the roles of lead and love interest in a romance novel, but that falling in love is not necessarily how they can relate to one another.
Personally, I very much enjoyed this reimagining of a modern vampire tale. There is a strong element of enemies-to-lovers with a pretty big question mark about what “lovers” would mean between a human and a vampire. There is also a theme of discrimination against haemophiles; on-page, we see this through nearly every interaction with Terje and the rest of the cast at some point or other. There is also an off-page mention of significant social unrest regarding species-relations. All in all, I think this is a very satisfying book to read that, for once, addresses an opposites-attract romance without quite the emphasis on “true love conquering all” while still managing to make me feel hopeful for Alec/Terje.