In a way, Meljean Brook’s latest installment to her Guardian series reminds me of the grand tradition of oral mythology. It has the same epic quality, with myriad storylines, races, motives, and degrees of good and bad, and I read Demon Blood with the same breathless anticipation with which one might await the next installment of Journey to the West. This, however, also has its drawbacks: When the characters are so grand, so mythological, can the average person relate to them?
The Guardian series retells the age-old tale of Lucifer’s fall to explain the existence of Guardians, demons, vampires, and humans. There is very little black or white in this world, although there is more-or-less good and more-or-less evil, and even some Guardians, whose job it is to protect humans from demons or bad vampires, find themselves tempted to break the rules occasionally.
Rosalia finds herself at such a crossroads. Six months ago she was rescued after eighteen months of torture, and now she quests to avenge her vampire family’s massacre and defeat the Guardians’ enemies. She enlists the help of Deacon, a vampire whom she has loved for decades. Deacon has his own axe to grind, for at the same time as Rosalia’s rescue, he was manipulated into betraying the Guardians in a futile attempt to save his vampire community from wholesale slaughter. Now persona non grata amongst the European vampires and most of the Guardians, he only wants vengeance.
Rosalia has a better plan, but, unfortunately, it involves using Deacon. She has the ability to manage people, sensing their motivations and using it to her advantage before they even realize what they want. While it is manipulative, Rosie does it without malice and selflessly, so her actions are understandable, even though this causes considerable friction between her and Deacon.
Now, it has been a long time since I read this series, and I’ve forgotten everything about the mythology and background. So I’m not exaggerating when I say that most people could jump in here if they chose, although they’d naturally enjoy the series more from the beginning. Demon Blood stands alone, and presents multiple storylines with ease. In addition to that, Ms. Brook plays delicately with her cast’s ambiguity, presenting a satisfying grayscale of morality.
But all this wonderfully complex mythology comes at a price: The initial setup is dense, and would probably put off some first- or even second-time readers. And I found myself more entranced with the setting and secondary characters than with our central couple. I tend to empathize with characters in three layers, rather like an orange, and Rosalia and Deacon were too remote to get past the white pericarp. Sure, I related to certain qualities or issues that they had. But empathizing with the whole package? Not really; at the core, I don’t understand them.
However, taken on those grounds I can read Demon Blood as a Homeric myth, mainly because Ms. Brook is acutely talented in basic storytelling. Now I have to go back and read the whole series, this time in earnest. If you haven’t read Meljean Brook by now, you are missing out.