Adam has endured his father’s abuse for the sake of his mother and sister. Even after his mother dies, Adam refuses to escape so that he can serve as a buffer between his father and his brilliant younger sister, Anna. Then, the worst imaginable thing happens–their father attempts to rape his own daughter. By the end of the attack, Adam and Anna are stunned and their father is dead. Because their father was a cop, Adam is convinced there will be no justice. He decides to take his sister across state lines and hole up in a cheap motel until he can think of a way of supporting them while Anna finishes school. The prospects for a high school drop out who can’t let his identity be known are slim to none, until a pimp convinces Adam to start turning tricks. Desperate for money, Adam tries to make it a one-off, but his new pimp has other ideas. And when his motel neighbor gets wind of Adam’s sexuality, things take an unimaginable turn for the worse.
Disillusioned with the pathetic state of humanity, the vampire Neku simply wants to sleep for a century or more. Maybe the world would regain some semblance of balance, of normal by then. As he soars through the sky to his resting place, however, the arresting scent of blood floods his senses. When Neku investigates, he learns that the enthralling blood belongs to a young man who is being beaten to death. Filled with inexplicable rage, Neku uses the powers he’s developed over the millennia and easily eliminates the attackers. But there is no respite for the young man…unless Neku changes him. His last attempt at changing someone left the man’s mind addled, but there is no way Neku can leave this man to death. As soon as the man recovers, Neku knows he’s got his work cut out for him. For one thing, this young Adam fellow has the kind of eyes that paranormals like Neku have only heard about in legends and prophecies. For another, Neku feels the stirrings of attraction. Not since Neku himself transitioned has he so much as entertained the idea of a romance with someone, but there’s something irresistible about Adam. If only he could set aside the paternalistic feelings he has for his own issue.
Ancient is the first book in Rain Carrington’s Ancient Blood series. Like my summary above, the story feels very segmented into details about Adam and Anna’s human lives versus Adam’s new life as a vampire. There is a preface that introduces Neku and his malaise about the state of the world. After that, the first chunk of the book fully explores the siblings’ relationship to one another and the mean circumstances they find themselves in. There is also a thorough explanation as to why neither Adam nor Anna can go to the police and explain what happened.
I have mixed feelings about the organization of the book. On the one hand, I liked having such a solid introduction to Adam. There was plenty of time to get a feel for what kind of person he is: industrious, responsible, and self-sacrificing. And above all else, he loves/idolizes his younger sister. The short interactions with the motel neighbor and the repeated appearances of the man who’d become Adam’s pimp bolstered those brief aspects of Adam’s story. On the other hand, some elements just seemed like padding. For example, there is the one police officer the siblings sort of trust, but he’s ineffectual at actually helping Adam. Then there is Anna’s getting sick, which I thought was an unnecessary means of demonstrating just how penniless the teenagers are. And when we segue into Adam’s turning into a vampire, neither the good cop’s job nor Anna’s being sick (to say nothing of money) has any bearing on anything.
The lore Carrington builds up around the paranormal characters was interesting, if a bit opaque at times. One great example is the turquoise color of Adam’s and Anna’s eyes. Clearly, this color is something vampires know to fear based on rumors and legends, but it’s not until many, many chapters later that we find out what makes turquoise eyes so fearsome. I liked the suspense and the idea that Adam had this whiff of power, but it wasn’t just plonked down. Indeed, one supporting character spent virtually all his on- and off-page time researching for information and facts about what Adam’s turquoise eyes mean. Which is why it was just astounding that the big reveal never mentioned where this eye color comes from, but later on the source is just tossed out as though everyone were already well aware of all the details.
The romance between Adam and Neku was a mixed bag for me. There’s very little to address the staggering age gap between them. Neku has existed for thousands of years and Adam is just 18. More than the chasm of disparity in their lived experiences, Neku focuses on the fact that he is Adam’s creator. That, coupled with the fact that the one who turned Neku broke his heart, leaves Neku trying to deny the attraction he feels for Adam. Conversely, Adam feels attracted to Neku because he’s extremely handsome and like a living relic of the past. Adam is nominally interested in archeology and there’s a small effort to use that as a means to bring Adam and Neku together. What I found so stunning was how Adam–the young adult who refused to escape his abusive father for his sister’s sake, who fell all over the proverbial sword to keep her safe, who has a noted interest in history–goes about trying to catch Neku’s attention. Specifically, Adam (under the advice of other vampires in Neku’s small family) embarks on the most juvenile “throw rocks at him” antics. It felt entirely out of place for the character. By the time these two come to terms with their feelings, the book is winding down as the plot is heating up…and ends on a terrific cliffhanger.
Overall, I think Ancient lacks polish both in terms of story development and simple editing (like when Adam’s trick slips on a “condemn” before sexual intercourse). I thought Neku and the vampire family he literally made for himself were well and consistently described. The small group really did seem to support each other and Adam when he arrived. It threw me for a loop to watch Adam sort of devolve from ruthless survivor to hot mess with a crush. I also wish the super important matter of Adam’s eyes and what they portend had been better organized in the story. I felt like the mystery kept building and building, but it gets revealed in such a piecemeal way and through events/stories that don’t have a clear through-line to Adam or Anna that it was hard to get a bead on what exactly he was. If you’re fan of vampire stories or slow burn stories, romances with immense hurdles to resolve, or stories where (in effect) the lovers feel like they have to sacrifice themselves for their lovers, I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this book. Just be careful of the editing and roundabout explanations for things.