We return to this month's CSFF Blog Tour feature, speculative novel Haunt of Jackals, sequel to Field of Blood in the Jerusalem's Undead trilogy by Eric Wilson. Because the two books are so intertwined in my thoughts, and since Jackals follows immediately on Blood's heels (no pun intended), I'll be discussing them together.
As one raised to love a good story, the Good Book, and a good many bits of obscure yet interesting information, I came to this series prepared to enjoy it. If a novel keeps me glued to my seat or stretched out on the couch for hours, that's a good story. Haunt of Jackals (HoJ) received a quicker read than its predecessor, Field of Blood (FoB), which remained on the bedside table for two weeks, about one-quarter read, before I picked it up again. Granted, a great book can still languish -- not because I don't like it, but because I'm either 1) mulling its depths, as when I first encountered Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, or 2) dealing with its emotional effects, as I did after my brother gave me a copy of Rora by James Byron Huggins.
With Field of Blood and Haunt of Jackals -- though HoJ is more rapidly paced than FoB -- I had the persistent thought that the story would have been better served by being condensed: FoB could have been Part 1 of the book, and the bulk of HoJ could have been the rest. Maybe that's the editor in me, always looking to advance the story down the most efficient path.
Wilson skilfully keeps the story clear despite its complications and numerous characters. I like his use of chess as a recurring motif, and his adeptness at weaving Christian and Judaic tradition, Scripture, modern events, geography, vampire mythology, and history into intriguing, believable fiction. Who knows but that there really are Collectors and Concealed Ones among us?
Rasputin, by the way, was an interesting and unexpected addition.
About the Collectors: I never quite bought into all their behaviors, speech patterns, and thought processes. This could just be me again, but they seemed to have too much modernity and sameness. And, though readers are expected to be concerned for the welfare of protagonists in any given story, I never actually felt any real tension until late in FoB, when a Collector approached Gina at her job then later joined forces with a bomber. Not good for Gina; great for the story.
There might have been more tension and suspense if the story started later, and if the conflicts, secrets, and revelations provoked action rather then brooding and angst. Gina's attitude wearied me. Once, when she dwelt one more time on the troubles between her and her mother, I actually said out loud, "Enough already!" She ponders it again in HoJ when she considers trying to bleed away her adopted son's tragic memories. By this time, however, she's been through her own tragedies, and she's matured.
Though surrounded by other characters who sometimes carry the story, Gina is the heroine. As such, she is expected to grab the audience's sympathies so they'll be on her side throughout the story. Due to her commission and her true identity, I wanted her to succeed; as a person, though, she made little connection with me. The same with Cal, her father.
Dov, the teenage boy with the horrific past and a burdened future, and Teo, Gina's childhood sweetheart who still loves her yet who betrays her, are the two most realistic characters in Haunt of Jackals. I believe them. Maybe that's because I've been the teenager who's seen and experienced terrible things, and I've been the one who carried a secret affection, know it would never be returned in quite the same manner. But, more than that, perhaps Wilson believed them, too, and so wrote them -- whether he intended to or not -- with more tension, understatement, and realism.
Speaking of realism, I like the fact that Wilson set part of the story in the Pacific Northwest. I spent most of my first fourteen years in Oregon (that's OR-reh-ghen, not or-i-GON), know about OMSI, used to visit family in Portland, and still have relatives in the Willamette Valley (will-AM-et, not william-ET). It's always a kick for me to encounter stories set in Oregon and Washington.
Maybe that's why I enjoyed watching "Frazier" when it was on the air. Anyhoo. Moving on.
One thing I enjoyed about HoJ is the way the story ranges all over the world. Since childhood, I've been fascinated by atlases, globes, and maps of all kinds -- probably something to do with the influence of Treasure Island -- but I've only traveled the United States and Honduras, so if a story can transport me to exotic places, I'll hang on for the ride.
And if the story explores the dark while still shedding light, better still. HoJ is about light shining in darkness, and though the dark may close in, it never overcomes.
This has been a mixed and rambling review; I'll try for a little more cohesion tomorrow. Meantime, for other opinions of Haunt of Jackals, click here for a list of other blogs on the tour.