jpsmithVampires, Saints, and Lovers is a 2014 self-published novel by Julia Phillips Smith. It was previously published under the title Saint Sanguinus in 2011, and is the first of a trilogy, referred to as the Dark Ages Vampire trilogy or the Brotherhood of Blood Trilogy. If this sounds like a work in progress, that’s because it is. Book two has not been released yet – and I’m eagerly awaiting it.

I have mixed feelings about the vampire genre. I love Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for its structure and strong undercurrent of sexuality. Unfortunately, many other interpretations of vampire mythology dwell more on the aspects of horror, or, as in the case of Twilight, manage to miss both the horror and the sexuality (it’s supposed to be dangerous, not safe). Ann Rice’s Interview with the Vampire left me cold. The structure, a weary vampire telling his life story, weakens the passion. Vampires turn up in paranormal romances, such as Kiss Me Deadly, but few paranormals are willing to go deeply into the implications of vampires. Smith is willing to go there.

In dark ages Wales, Peredur is dying on the battlefield. Full of regret for losing his lover Tanwen, he curses God, and that act summons a demon, who offers another life. Peredur accepts, and finds himself a vampire of sorts, in a brotherhood dedicated to stopping those they consider true vampires. The brotherhood feed on people, like the true vampires, but otherwise lead an ascetic and devout life, serving a saint. One night Peredur visits Tanwen, desperate to see her again, yet also driven to tell her that she must find another, as “I am no longer fit to be the lover of a woman who deserves to be loved.”

Tanwen, dealing with family pressure to be married off, flees to a man she thinks can help re-unite her with her lover: Cavan, the unpopular son of the village wise woman. Cavan has the power to help her, and the desire, but his solution is not exactly what she expected. By the mid-point of the book, we have a love triangle of vampires in warring groups, and while Tanwen fully enjoys the unbridled sexuality of her new life, she still yearns for Peredur. Smith has just the right amount of detail to create a fabulous erotic tone in some scenes, and manages to portray Tanwen as both devoted and sexually indulgent.

The story-telling is superb in other respects. The setting is accurately and appropriately rendered, and rooted in historical figures and situations. The structure is also impressive. Initially the chapters alternate between the separate paths of Peredur and Tanwen. Once the characters and circumstances are well established, Cavan’s point of view is also brought in, flashbacks deepen our understanding of the two men, and the pace of the story increases towards the anticipated confrontation where individual and group loyalties will be tested.

As this is book one of a trilogy, the conclusion resolves some issues, but leaves others open, and raises new questions. I’m looking forward to reading more of this story.

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