Rating: 3 stars
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For Poppy, life has been pretty fun. Sure, there have been low points; growing up on a pig farm wasn’t great, but leaving home and heading to London was exciting. Finding out she was more likely to make money as a sex worker than a seamstress took some getting used to, though. Even so, Poppy entered into even this with a good humor. She likes her work and she has fun with it. She has clients she likes, friends she loves, and enough money for small expenses. And then … she gets turned into a vampire.
For a year, Poppy is watched over by Roisin, an older vampire who teaches her how to, er, live as a vampire. The first year in a vampire’s life is a difficult one, as her impulses will be the most difficult to control, her lust for blood will be bestial, and Poppy will have to work to keep her humanity. Or so Roisin says. It’s a long year with the two women alone, and for Poppy — gregarious, social, warm-blooded by nature — it’s a year where her only friend, her only companion, her only entertainment is Roisin. What began as an interest turns into a fixation, an obsession, and even love.
However, there’s something in the way of their happiness. Cane, the woman who turned Roisin and Poppy, also obsesses over Roisin, and she wants her back.
I struggled with this book. Technically, it has a lot of what I like. There’s world building with the vampires, their lore, and their ways of dealing with humans and one another. If you know you will live for hundreds of years, how do you find a connection with a human who will die long before you? The plot appealed to me, with Roisin torn between her desire to stay with Poppy and knowing Cane has to be stopped before she can ruin their chance at happiness, and I’m a sucker for morally tortured characters. I even really liked the idea of Poppy. Poppy is a warm hug of a person, all smiles and love and light and life stuck in a gothic novel. She’s an unashamed sex worker, not tormented by it and not hiding from it. When faced with genderqueer vampires, she’s at first surprised, but her few stumbles are more from ignorance than indifference or cruelty. Poppy has her moments of sadness and despair, but she gets past them and moves on to living her life. And, I think, had the book been more about Poppy, I would have enjoyed it more.
This book is written with a very distinctive style. I felt like I was reading two women each performing a one-woman play. Poppy would speak, act, declaim, while Roisin patiently waited her turn so that she, too, could speak to her life experiences and tragedies. Poppy would then with appropriate noises before moving on to her next turn. Every scene is well put together. The story beats follow, one after the other; the only problem I had is that the characters felt just as technically placed and everything felt both dialogue heavy and robotic. Almost everything I know about the characters is something I was told, not something I discovered. The reveal of Cane and her cruelty wasn’t something that unfolded over a conversation or two, it was stated again and again, over and over, and felt rote rather than natural. And yet, when she showed up, the characters shook their fists and scowled, but I never felt either fear, anger, or any emotional reaction. It seemed like Poppy declares her love with the same emotion with which she asks for another rabbit to feed on. I was unable to find any emotional connection with the characters myself, or between the characters at all.
This review is only my opinion of and reaction to the book. Other people may read this and enjoy it but, for me, the setting was too flexible — more historical with a modern flair — the characters had the same voice and lack of reaction to anything, and the conversations dragged and were often repetitive, giving the same information with the same results.