Hide Me Among the Graves is an intriguing, original and slightly anachronistic take on the Victorian vampire novel.
It takes something special to rise up above the sea of sameness that is the contemporary vampire novel subgenre. Tim Powers, in Graves, has come up with a compelling mythology of vampirism that both feels fresh while staying somewhat true to the thematic power of the vampire trope – that sanguinary union of love and victimization that is the bloodsucker’s relationship with its thrall.
Vampires in Graves are the muses of their hosts, making them great poets and writers, but they are jealous entities and will kill or at least gravely injure anyone related to them. And the London of the setting is a gothic subterranean conurbation in the tradition of other fantastic depictions of city in its Victorian days, haunted by ghosts in the Thames, slowly drifting out to sea to dissipate into oblivion. It is as compelling a conceit as any I have seen in this subgenre, and Powers lays it out, for the most part, in a calibrated manner that slowly reveals the aspects of his mythos without resorting to expository dumps – the bane of many works of fantasy.
Graves also features one of Tim Powers’ signature plot elements – the melding of reality and fiction through having his characters be fictionalized versions of middling-famous historical figures. Indeed, almost every character in Graves – save for the protagonist and his daughter – is based on a real denizen of Victorian England. In particular, members of the Rossetti family – a reasonably well-known family of poets and writers – are prominent characters in the book.
Also, Graves is a sequel to a previous novel of his, The Stress of Her Regard, which details the events, only hinted at in Graves, that led to the present condition of its characters, and also features a bevy of historical figures, from Byron to Keats.
Somewhat embarrassingly, I was unaware of both of these facts throughout the entire course of my reading of the book – although there is something to be said about the fact that this did not detract too much from its inherent qualities – though it’d be a bit hard to really appreciate the historical references without being some sort of Victorian-era poetry geek.
The irreality of the book’s faux-historical veneer is complemented by an abiding sense of anachronism. The characters don’t seem to think or talk like Victorians – they’re portrayed as being apart from the rest of society, branded by the knowledge of the deeper occult world, and strangely cavalier about ghosts, dessicated undead children, ouija rituals and carrying songbirds in one’s coat pockets. And there always seems to be a hansom cab about whenever the characters need one, a state of affairs that strikes me as very modern expectation. The bottom-line is that this, while set in a fixed historical moment, feels contemporary in outlook.
All in all, Graves is as good as any Victorian gothic horror novel I’ve seen – with a premise that it at once original but hews to the essence of the classic vampire novel.
I give it: 4 out of 5 hansom cabs