Monday, 12 January 2009

Blood Sinister - Celia Rees

Ok, so only by the loosest of definitions could this be called ‘Sunday.’ But what can I say, I’ve been busy travelling through time back to Victorian London and busting some serious vampire ass. Oh wait, maybe I’ve gotten my life mixed up with something else.

Blood Sinister is a Point Horror Unleashed, which I BELIEVE means that it was published for the UK only. So us Brits get to feel all warm and snuggly with superiority for having a Point Horror all to ourselves, and the rest of you get the excitement of reading an EXCLUSIVE recap that you can boast to all your friends about, now that’s what I like to call a win-win situation.

Sixteen year old Ellen is our lead character, and the main thing you need to know about Ellen is that she’s really really sick with a mystery illness. Nobody knows what’s wrong with her, she’s constantly having her blood tested etc. but to no avail. And she’s getting weaker and weaker, definitely more at the ‘Death’ stage of an illness rather than the ‘it’s Monday morning and I just cannot be bothered to get out of bed, lord love me’ stage. A sickly heroine, how fabulous.

Ellen is staying with her dear old granny for a couple of weeks in London whilst her mum does, I don’t know, something or other, I really can’t remember. Let’s spice things up and say she’s currently travelling with a circus as a bearded lady, yeah that’ll do.

Ellen’s grandma’s house is, naturally, super creepy and backs onto a cemetery. Oh yeah, and her grandma asks Ellen if she wants anything from the shop and Ellen’s all, just get me a copy of Mizz or Just Seventeen. Just Seventeen! I totally used to read that even though I was nowhere near seventeen at the time. It took me a pretty long time to work out that the title wasn’t indicative of some kind of new fangled magazine licensing law and I used to get really nervous buying it, like ‘Gawd, I hope I don’t get ID’d, I really need to read up on some new ways to practice kissing techniques.'

Anyway. Ellen goes for a little snoop around Granny’s attic and finds a mysterious trunk that she’s never noticed before. In the trunk is a whole bunch of old diaries from 1878, written by someone who was also called Ellen. Oh great, way to make life difficult for a recapper. Old Diary Ellen is modern sickly Ellen’s great great grandmother, a “pioneering woman doctor.” All female doctors should totally have to refer to themselves as ‘woman doctors’, like on their passports and stuff, occupation: woman doctor.

Ellen starts reading Old Ellen’s diary, and it’s written in that tiresome prose that authors of teenage books use to make something feel olde worldy. Old Ellen’s dad is a doctor and they live in some grim old hospital in a poor part of town, which Ellen pretty much thinks just sucks. Olde Timey Ellen also has a crush on Tom, her father’s assistant. I guess in those days you probably were pretty much limited to having a crush on whatever non-blood relatives find their way into your house. Unless you were like a whoring wench or something, but that was probably less glamorous than it sounds what with the syphilis and all.

Anyway Olde Timey Diary Ellen’s dad has some weirdo guests over. An exceptionally pale man and a busty voluptuous woman with dark eyes. A Countess and a Count. Foreign. Very likely candidates to be vampires. They may as well just go around introducing themselves to people as The Obvious Vampires.

Modern Ellen’s reading is interrupted by a visitor arriving - Andy, a guy who lives nearby and who she used to play with when they were kids. “His hair was cut in a recognizable style, instead of looking like his mother had been at it with the bacon scissors.” What the fuck are bacon scissors. I mean, I can guess pretty accurately what they are, but I sooooo did not know that that was a thing.

Back to old Ellen’s diary: the woman leaves but the Count stays. The Count requests that old Ellen keeps him company to help improve his English. The Count is very ill, he’s dying and her dad is going to try to help him. They’re old friends and the Count and Countess helped her dad when her mother Isobel got ill in foreign-land, even though she eventually died, so he feels like he owes them a debt of care. Even though if you ask me, the fact that she died doesn’t exactly make it sound like they helped a great deal.

The diary skips forward a month later and Future Woman Doctor Ellen is loving spending time with the Count, although his condition has worsened so she is super worried about him. They’ve totally bonded, but there’s just one little weensy thing she doesn’t like about him: his teeth. Which are too sharp looking. Modern Ellen has way more smarts than olde worldy Ellen and she quickly figures out that the Count was totes a vampire!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Back in modern times, Andy comes round, and him and Ellen go shopping at some second hand market. Ellen handily finds a book called Women in Medicine, and indeed there’s an entry on oldey timey Ellen, famed Woman Doctor. Woman Doctor Ellen specialised in the ‘study of blood.’ Ellen tells Andy about the vampire diaries, and he eagerly asks to read them as well. Supposedly, “Andy had his own reasons for believing in vampires.”

Andy walks Ellen home, taking a shortcut through a graveyard, Ellen reminds him of a time when they were kids, and Andy went into the graveyard at night time as a dare and came out all pale faced and trembly and weird. He tells her that he ended up in a mausoleum and heard a scratching sound, like a dead person scratching at their tomb. So, a pretty bullet proof reason for believing in vampires then. And he subsequently did some “research” and found loads of “articles” about vampires being spotted in the area. Hmm. If I were Ellen, I’d definitely ask to see his sources.

Back in the diary, olde worldy Ellen gets roped in to helping her dad and Tom operate on the Count . What daddy dearest doesn’t tell her is that her help will comprise of Tom and daddy transfusing Ellen’s blood into the Count. Tom isn’t happy about it but Ellen agrees to donate her blood. Man, Ellen’s dad really sucks Luckily, Ivan (The Count’s manservant) intervenes and tells them to use his blood instead. The transfusion is a success.

A corpse is found in the river. Why were corpses always found in the river in the olden days? You don’t get that quite as often anymore do you. Ellen has a little cut on her wrist and good old Cook applies a herbal remedy to get rid of it, the main ingredient of which is garlic. Come on, as if you’d write all this shit about garlic in your diary.

The Count gives old Ellen some crazy junk wine and tells her a story about someone who I think is meant to be Dracula. When he goes to kiss Ellen’s wrist as is his foreign custom, the smell of garlic totally grosses him out. I’ll be really happy if the twist is that he actually isn’t a vampire.

More and more kids are going missing/getting killed in Diary world, turning up all corpsey and drained of blood. Ellen and Tom drift apart.

Modern times: Andy and Ellen find a picture of dead Ellen from when she was a girl, and the two Ellens look identical. Andy and Ellen whoop it up, watching vampire films and umm, throwing ice cream at each other? Kids nowadays, huh.

It starts getting weird that night after Andy leaves: a bat crawls into Ellen’s window and bites her whilst she’s sleeping, Ellen is completely oblivious to this. Hmm, I wonder if this is perhaps related to the origin of her mysterious illness.

For some reason, we are suddenly plunged into part two of the book. If breaking Point Horror books up into parts isn’t a delusion of grandeur then I don’t know what is. It’s not even as if any time has passed, or anything really major has happened to warrant splitting it into parts. Its literally just half way though the book. Sorry, I’m going on about it now, I know. It just really really bothers me.

Anyway, MOVING ON, modern Ellen has a dream that she is old Ellen, and she meets someone new in her dream: The Countess’s companion, Grace, who is also thin and bloodless looking etc. Modern Ellen wakes up and checks the diaries, and Grace is actually a real person. Hmm, that’s weird. Ellen thinks “it was like something out of ‘Strange But True magazine.’ Is this a real magazine? I like the sound of it.

Oldey timey Ellen is being taken on loads of shopping trips, which makes her suspicious: why is her father buying her all these new clothes? Also, she finds out that Grace hates the Countess and she only stays with her because she has no other options for earning money, except becoming a prostitute. Grace warns Ellen to keep away from the Countess and the Count, telling her that they are dangerous and corrupt.

Oldey timey Ellen goes out with the Count and he ends up taking her to see a show, then to a restaurant for champagne and oysters. And they dance. And oldey timey Ellen feels all dirty and disgusted buy it, even though she’s kind of confused by her own disgust. Modern Ellen totally scoffs at Old Worlde Ellen for her prudishness.

More women are killed in olde timey London, etc. Tom comes to tell oldey timey Ellen that her father is firing him over a disagreement so he will be leaving. And he gives her a crucifix and just comes right out with it, telling her that the Count is a vampire. Ellen kind of thinks he’s crazy but still agrees to wear the crucifix. That’s a pretty sweet technique for getting love rivals out of your way, just spread a tasty little rumour that they’re The Walking Undead.

Oldey timey Ellen’s dad reveals that he fired Tom because of Tom's belief that the Count is a vampire. The man is an absolute penis breath. Insufferable. Anyway, Dr Dad says that The Count is just suffering from a rare blood disease. And he drops one more bombshell: he wants Ellen to go to the continent with the Count and Countess to travel and see the world. Ellen does NOT want to go, and she resumes her friendship with Tom, who vows to try to find some evidence about the Count's nefarious blood sucking ways so she'll be allowed to stay.

The countess is all grossed out by Ellen’s crucifix and insists on giving her some gnarly old ruby necklace that spells out a dragon or something instead. Grace shows Ellen two puncture marks on her neck, and tells her she needs to get away from the Count and Countess before it happens to her too. Ellen gives Grace some cash and the gross dragon necklace to sell so that Grace can escape.

Modern Ellen’s illness gets considerably worse and she passes out.

Ellen dreams of being olde timey Ellen, and together with Tom, she's following the Count and watching as he gets all bitey bitey with some impoverished broad before Ivan the manservant steps in and rescues the woman from being eaten.

In modern day, Ellen is really seriously ill – like, knock knock kocking on Heaven’s door. She gets taken to hospital in an ambulance, and is passing in and out of consciousness the whole time, sometimes as herself and sometimes as oldey timey Ellen.

In the old days, The Count kidnaps Ellen onto his ship, sneaking her aboard in a coffin so nobody could possibly know where she is and potentially rescue her. The Count and Countess are offering Ellen the chance to become one of them – and have immortal life etc, if she says no, they’ll kill her. They have CHOSEN HER because of her dead mother. Turns out her mum was all set to become one of them but then she got pregnant with Ellen and that somehow interfered with the process and she ended up dead. It’s not really made clear whether or not Ellen’s mum wanted to be a vampire, which would certainly be one of the first questions I’d be asking. Ellen whips out her crucifix and, as is pretty par for the course for a Point Horror heroine, winds up starting a fire. And then Ivan the man servant steps in and saves her from burning. Good old Ivan. And she jumps out the ship and escapes. And we find out later that olde timey Ellen ended up marrying Tom and becoming a Famed Woman Doctor etc., so happy endings all round.

Modern Ellen wakes up in hospital with all tubes and shit down her throat. And inexplicably, we now move into Book Three. Ellen is still in hospital , and her nurse is called Jenny Cheung,. Jenny Cheung “has creamy clear skin and slanting eyes. “ Ellen is unduly fascinated by her eyes and spends ages staring at them. Awkward. As a treat, Jenny Cheung offers to cook Ellen some Chinese food when she recovers. OK OK, WE GET IT, JENNY CHEUNG IS CHINESE.

Jenny Cheung tells Ellen that her doctor is a big shot specialist from the states called Dr Stacey, Everyone thinks he’s The Shit, but Jenny Cheung is kinda wary of him. And Ellen recognizes him as being ….. The Count! So clearly, she's also sorta wary. Ellen decides there’s no point even trying to tell anyone, which for once actually seems like a sensible move. Ellen’s mum tells hr that soon she’s going to be transferred to Dr Stacey’s private hospital, The Blooditorium. Well, it’s not actually called The Blooditorium but that would be pretty neat right?

Dr Stacey comes to see Ellen in the night and he knows she knows and she now knows that he knows that she knows. About the diaries. And the whole being a vampire gig. He kind of shows off about it a bit to be honest: “He reached down and took a unit of blood, popping the seal and drinking like it was a pouch of Ribena.” He tells Ellen that she’s special because she carries a gene of something or other (which is what’s making her so ill all the time) , and she basically has to become a vampire or she’ll just die.

Andy visits Ellen and she tells him about her doctor being a vampire etc. Andy’s pretty cool about it and believes her. I guess when you’re a sixteen year old guy you’ll believe a lot of stuff if it looks like you might get a quick grope out of it later. Ellen also tells Jenny Cheung about Dr Stacey. Jenny Cheung is also surprisingly quick to believe what Ellen says.

Jenny Cheung and Andy meet up to sort this mess out. The plan is that Jenny and Ellen are going to swap places in the hospital bed to prevent the good Doctor from getting his fangs into Ellen. Andy astutely points out that this plan may not work as Jenny Cheung, is in fact, in case you hadn’t noticed already, Chinese. Jenny Cheung soothes his fears by pointing out that their height and build are similar? Umm ok. And Jenny Cheung is going to use a Dictaphone to record whatever happens so they have evidence against him. Jeez, why don’t they just kill the guy or something. I mean, that’s what I’d do.

Andy and Jenny Cheung head off to Chinatown (because Jenny Cheung’s defining personality trait is Being Chinese), and Jenny Cheung tells Andy all about Chinese vampires, Kang-shi. They go to a Chinese Herbal Medicine shop, which is owned by Jenny Cheung’s uncle. He agrees to make them a potion to get rid of the vampire. Oh , please. Please don’t get rid of the vampire by using a fucking potion. This is too much. I was really looking forward to a good staking, perhaps with a beheading thrown in, But some POTION? That’s seriously lame, dude. So this ‘potion’ is basically just a poison that will either kill him outright or just weaken him up. In which case, they WILL have to stake him, Uncle Cheung gives all these tips on how to carry out a good staking. This is fucking ridiculous, this guy is basically sanctioning that these kids murder someone. Umm, Uncle Cheung? What if this guy ISN’T a vampire huh?

Jenny decides that the best way to trick Dr Stacey into taking the potion is to drink the potion herself, so if Dr Stacey bites her he’ll get poisoned too. Which is possibly the most ridiculous plan I’ve ever heard in my life, I’m not even going to bother picking holes in it as they’re so glaringly obvious anyway.

Jenny Cheung and Andy head back to the hospital to make the swap…only to find that Ellen has already been transferred to Dr Stacey’s private clinic. So Andy and Jenny head to The Blooditorium instead. Andy pretends he’s visiting his sister to distract the desk nurse with idle chitter chatter, and Jenny Cheung pretends to be an agency worker called Su Lin Chen, wearing a high collared coat and a scarf all muffling her face and a hat so you cant really see what she looks like. Jenny manages to get in, and then Ellen comes out wearing Jenny’s clothes, still all muffled. In other words, they pull off The Old Switcheroo.

Dr Stacey creeps into Ellen’s room that evening and takes a big old chomp out of Jenny-as-Ellen, clearly not noticing that she’s turned Chinese overnight.

Ellen and Andy go to pick Jenny out the next morning, who’s snuck herself back out in a nurse's uniform, She shows them the gash that Dr Stacey made on her neck. For some reason, Ellen goes BACK INTO Dr Stacey’s Blooitorium rather than just escaping. She wants to officially discharge herself for some murky reason. Andy follows Dr Stacey as he leaves the hospital. He doesn’t come back. As soon as Ellen is discharged (? That was easy. Why didn’t she just do that in the first place), her and Jenny go in search of Andy.

Also, Ellen is suddenly starting to become a lot healthier, supposedly this is because as Dr Stacey grows weaker from the poison it makes his victim, Ellen grow in strength.

The girls enter the cemetery and they find Andy, he had gotten lost I guess. The sun suddenly goes down, and they reach a dead end - The Count’s family vault. That sure is handy that he happens to have a family vault here, even though none of his family members that I’m aware of have died in London. Ellen waits outside whilst the others go in. Ummm, WHY is this girl our heroine?? She’s too weak to even do anything fer crying out loud.

They find The Count/Dr Stacey in a coffin, sleeping soundly. Jenny Cheung uses some Chinese vampire hoo doo to hold him in place, which together with the poison that has weakened him, will greatly improve the chances of a successful staking.

Unfortunately he wakes up and starts stretching out his teeth in preparation for a tasty human snack. Fortunately, the family vault also decides that this is the perfect time to start falling down. Jenny and Andy run out of the building to where Ellen is waiting for them outside, Dr Stacey is unable to move from his coffin thanks to the hoo doo and is killed by a falling iron sheet that slices off his head. I gotta say, I’m kinda disappointed. Ellen really didn’t DO anything, she wasn’t even there to witness his final destruction and dance a merry little jig of happiness.

Ellen’s health is completely restored, she’ s happy because now she knows she’s not going to die any time soon (well, unless she gets hit by a bus or something) so she can plan a future, and she decides that “in the end she would be a doctor. It was in her blood.” Fnarr, Fnarr.

In conclusion: Blood Sinister is actually pretty decent, at least until Part Three when things start falling apart a little. But the overall standard of writing is far superior to the usual Richie Tankersely Cusick/RL Stine style dross, I give it two fangs up. (see what I did there.)

This is my favourite Amazon review, perhaps my favourite ever:

“When I was reading a particulary creepy bit I thought my brain was imagening creepy violin music, it turned out to be my brother in the next room!!”


Next time: The Bride by D. E. Athinks. Which I admit that I chose pretty much soley on the basis of how awesome the name D. E. Athinks is. I mean, if you’re going to shoehorn the word Death into your name, why not have something equally scary on the end as well? Like, D. E. AthKILL or something. Or maybe that’s just TOO scary.


Anonymous said...

I read this book, and the start sounds familiar, but after that, I don't know... it all kinda falls apart. And in addition, the copy I have isn't Point Horror, let alone Unleashed.

And, really? D.E. Athinks? A book was genuinely published with that name on it?

The Babysitter said...

Yes, I think those sneaky marketing bods re released quite a lot of Point Horror books under a non-Point Horror banner....
And indeedly, the incredibly pseudynomed (not a real word) D. E. Athinks churned out a number of PHs.

megan said...

The Obvious Vampires would be an awesome name for a band. haha. :)

Anonymous said...

♪ Here comes The Bride ♫


I'm just so eager to know what a book by D.E. Athinks is like.

Devika said...

I thoroughly enjoyed all the British allusions (Ribena, anyone?!?) in this book! I was born in the States, but my parents are British, and I used to live there, so I feel a weird bond with British references in literature. I actually got a little warm and tingly.

Also, you're posts are so funny that I have feign coughing fits just to hide my laughter. Keep up the good work!

Sati said...

I vaguely remember this, but not really. I wasn't a fan of the Unleashed series, although The Vanished (I have that one in a non-PH cover, thank God; the girl on the PH cover gave me the shivers) and The Hanging Tree were pretty cool. I have a bunch of others around the house, that I keep picking up in charity shops, but none of them make me happy the way the American ones do.

And holy crud, I thought the exact same about Just Seventeen. At least before they changed it to J-17 and made it all glossy to compete with Sugar and Bliss. (And got rid of the more "adult" content. Sigh. I missed the sex questions on the problem pages.)