When a vampire’s abilities and defects never fully develop, taking on the head of England’s biggest vampire sect could be a bad idea.
Ever since he was turned, John Grissom, bacteriologist, has worked to find a cure for the disease. A powerful peer of the realm approaches him about research into the immunological properties of vampire blood, but Grissom discovers a far more gruesome scheme at play. He, his newly acquired assistant Henrietta, and the Prussian Van Helsing, a veteran vampire hunter in the employ of the Foreign Service, must seek out the elusive vampire lord before he sets in motion a domino effect leading to Napoleon’s successful arrival on British shores.
I recently was offered the opportunity to read and review Order of the Blood: The Unofficial Chronicles of John Grissom by Page Zaplendam. (Full disclosure: I received a free copy of the ebook but my opinions are my own.)
Now, y’all know I love to read. And I have always enjoyed historical romances and fantasy. This book has both. Still, I was a little skeptical when I began to read. After all, there have been a lot of vampire novels written recently. What more could there be to say?
But John Grissom is not your typical vampire: debonair, bloodthirsty, seductive, and headed straight for hell. Nor is he a modern vampire: gorgeous, angsty, tortured, all-powerful. Instead he is a Catholic gentleman of the past (England, 1809), a scientist living with what he believes to be a disease, subsisting on the blood of animals and feverishly researching to find a cure. Moreover, he still needs his glasses, is not super-strong or super-fast, and has no problem with daylight.
And he isn’t the only unwilling vampire attempting to live a virtuous life–indeed, the opening scene of the novel takes place at a support group meeting for the Afflicted, which will look very familiar to anyone who knows the format of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting! It is there that he first spots Dr. Isherwood and his daughter, Henrietta, who will become his assistant and ally and possibly more than that in the future–I’ve been promised there are sequels on the way!
Besides introducing us to the main characters, including an ancestor of the famous Van Helsing, the novel is full of political intrigue and plotting that Grissom, an unlikely action hero, must attempt to thwart. Zaplendam knows how to paint a picture of the era–the characters are clearly of their time (while still being relatable) and I loved all the little details such as the use of appropriate slang terms. You can tell the author did her homework–she didn’t just plop modern characters into an old-fashioned setting. I also appreciate that Grissom is a moral vampire whose Catholic faith and the state of his soul are important to him
This is a short novel, but every word counts. A lot happens in this book and I am impressed by Zaplendam’s ability to world-build and create distinct–and likeable–characters with such economy. I was sorry to see the story end and the first thing I asked the author was if there would be sequels.
I don’t want to spoil the story for you by saying any more. Instead, I’ll share what I learned from the author herself when I interviewed her after reading the book.
Q: How long have you been writing fiction? Is this your first published work?
A: I have been writing fiction with the intent of becoming an author for at least seven years. It’s been difficult to fit it in when I have so many other time commitments. This is my first published fiction piece, the first of many.
Q: Why have you chosen to use a pen name?
A: For a variety of reasons, but mainly to protect my family – publishing is so very public – and because I write in multiple genres. Like other authors, I decided to use a pen name to help with creating and maintaining a specific author identity. Once I publish in a different genre, it will be under a different pen name.
Q: How does your Catholic faith inform your writing?
A: Excellent question. In regard to this book specifically, it always bothered me that in the vampire narrative, there was no exercise of free will. Our faith teaches us that we have free will; we can either cooperate with God’s graces or deny them. But becoming a vampire via the usual method – where one is turned against one’s will – seemed unfair and simplistic.
Imagine a Catholic man, a hard-working, Mass attending father of a family. Coming home late one night he’s victimized by a vampire – and all of a sudden he’s an evil, murderous vampire? Not only does the individual not will to become a creature of evil, participating in evil, but how many people do we know that are evil for evil’s sake? We are far more complex than that.
So I wanted to show the struggles that are likely were the vampire narrative actually a possibility. I re-imagined it this way, as a disease, because our faith teaches us that it is an impossibility for anyone, even Satan, to make our moral choices for us. A disease was the most rational explanation for vampirism, in order to explain how an individual could be affected by vampirism without it inhibiting their ability to exercise their free will.
Ultimately, we must choose the good. Faced with the difficulties of requiring blood to survive, the age old moral question of taking another’s life for the sake of maintaining one’s own life, comes into play. Given the recent revealing videos on Planned Parenthood, I find this question to be especially relevant since it is one of the biggest justifications for abortion (life of the mother).
In the broader sense of how Catholicism informs my writing, I have to say ‘treatment of subject.’ As a Catholic writer, the final outcome of a story must be a moral outcome. Even if the writer is dealing with immoral elements, or temptations to sin, or perhaps even engages in sinful things, or is torn about the immorality of a given situation, the final conclusion, the takeaway as it were, must be reflective of objective morality (which Catholicism has the exclusive right to determine). In that respect, a Catholic writer can never justify premarital sex or divorce in their writing, or write about it in such a way that it would propose an occasion of sin for the reader. At times, it can take delicate handling, more so when using romantic elements.
Q: What are your literary influences?
A: There are so many, but in particular Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. I don’t know that they have influenced my writing so much as they have influenced me and the things I love (which in turn influence my writing, so I must think there is a correlation there.) One can’t escape modernity though. We are a product of our age. And I really like that we can write things now in ways that would have been considered unacceptable in times past. I can start a sentence with ‘And,’ I can have my characters express what they are really thinking without the imposition of social restraint (as one sees in 19c novels for example). Of course, there is a certain artistry to being able to write within given parameters, no doubt. But I really enjoy being able to write in my own voice, which finds a lot of humor in a realization of the obvious.
Q: Why romance? Why vampires?
A: I was torn about what genre to place this in. Is it a historical? A paranormal? A romance, per se? The romance aspect of it was intended from the outset to be a side story, and I think I accomplished that. What can I say? At heart I am a romantic. I especially love the idea of how complicated life could get for an individual suffering from a disease that might endanger the loved one. There’s a lot of fodder there for conflict and drama, a writer’s dream really.
And vampires because I haven’t yet come across a vampire narrative that really satisfied me. Vampirism is an extremely old narrative historically, almost medieval, and it was a response to the inability of medieval man to explain certain events. Vampires were among the ‘bogeymen’ of old. As far as folk villains go, a vampire is nearly iconic. As one who really loves folklore and fairy tales, that in itself was enough to intrigue me.
Q: Vampires are ubiquitous in popular culture. Is it a fair criticism to say that there’s nothing new to say about them?
A: I’ve often asked myself that same question about fiction as a whole. There are just so many books out there. What new thing could possibly be written? And the truth is, we aren’t writing new things in the sense that we are bringing something new to the table. It’s more like discovering a new facet of the same gem. We are dealing with the same old human nature, but we can arrive at new insights into that nature. That is the artistry of being a writer no matter the genre, no matter the subject matter. And all the more reason for fiction to be written from a Catholic moral perspective. Of anyone, Catholic writers are in the best position to understand the human soul and human nature, because we have the true (Catholic) understanding of it.
Vampires are ubiquitous, sure, but in so far as a re-imagined vampire narrative can act as a platform for revealing the complexities of what it is to be human, I think there is room for development.
Q: What about the sexual undertones of vampirism? (SPOILER) At the same time that John assured Henrietta’s father that nothing happened between them—meaning nothing sexual—I felt that the intimacy of the sharing of blood was akin to the intimacy of a sexual act.
A: That’s a provocative question (no pun intended), thank you. Part of vampire lore includes the power of the vampire over the victim, his ability to influence his victim and subject him. It is an invasion, not only physically, in the sense that the person is physically subjected against their will, but it is also a psychological invasion. I didn’t want to discount that aspect, but I wanted to be able to explain how it worked to some degree.
While nothing happens between John and Henrietta that would endanger her physical purity or mental/spiritual innocence, we see a sudden jump in their knowledge of each other. This jump would normally come after greatly increased association with each other (which in turn would typically only occur if they were courting), so it puts an unorthodox (for the time period) sort of intimacy between them that creates tension. Not only do we have a physical attraction there (we are attracted first with our eyes), we also have increased awareness of what makes the other person tick. Evil vampires are going to use this to their advantage. Grissom, as a man of honor, feels like he knows more than he has a right to know.
Q: Some Catholics would opine that to write about vampires is to dabble in the occult. How would you answer such a criticism?
A: I think a thing is what it is, only if that is what it is.
In other words, if something is in se occult, than it can’t be otherwise. If one were to present a Ouija board, something which in se deals with the occult, as possibly not such a bad thing, yes, it would be dabbling in the occult. But I don’t believe vampirism necessarily falls under ‘occult.’. First, because vampires begin as humans. In my book, they retain their humanity. Like I said, the idea that man can lose his free will through no fault of his own is actually against Catholic teaching. The Unofficial Chronicles is a recognition of that by re-imagining vampires as humans with a free will.
Secondly, would we say that a movie such as the Exorcism of Emily Rose dabbles in the occult? It deals with the demonic, it’s for entertainment. The occult, so far as I understand it, requires a glorification of or at least an impartiality towards the demonic. But treatment of subject. A writer can have a character who is a satanist – as long as that satanism is presented as an evil and that satanist as a sinner. In the Exorcism of Emily Rose the demonic is unquestionably recognized for the evil it is and the possession case is merely the vehicle, the background, to the greater drama of the trial. It is because of that that it is acceptable to Catholics. Juxtapose it against the The Exorcist, which relies on the sensationalizing of a possession case for its entertainment.
I think those are the major differences between my novel and many of the vampire novels that are out there. In my novel, vampirism is not in se part of the occult, but a disease which does not in se produce a demoniac, and it’s the vehicle by which the greater story is revealed.
Q: What’s next for John Grissom?
A: Like the first book, book 2 has mystery, suspense, and bit of romantic drama. We see him using his defects as strengths and discovering new things about himself. I decided to go North into Derbyshire, for several reasons, one among them being that that’s where Pemberley is and I wanted to give a nod to Pride and Prejudice, one of my favorite books since I was a teenager. But the thing I am most stoked about is the new paranormal threat Grissom will be dealing with. It’s very exciting. And a shade gruesome, like book 1.
Page Zaplendam is the pen name of a writer of speculative and fantasy fiction. Page does not believe in vampires, or that the world will end in the immediate future. Then again, truth is always stranger than fiction.
To learn more about Page and her writing, check out the links below:
And I encourage you to purchase the ebook!
Or here: Buy Order of the Blood from Smashwords