House of Memory
NOTE: This book is out of print.
Isn’t it amazing what tiny details one remembers from one’s school days? Whereas whole years of chemistry and physics seem to have left my brain remarkably untouched, I couldn’t help thinking of a short quote from Oscar Wilde while I was reading Michaela August’s House of Memory. Reading it immediately made me think of Wilde’s description of homosexuality as “the love that dare not speak its name”. Before I get too carried away here or bore you into oblivion, let me explain. House of Memory, in comparison to its predecessor Glass Souls, is decidedly beefed up on homoeroticism and cross-gender confusion (that’s the “love” part); yet, it largely manages to evade its risqué subject matter by offering tantalizing glimpses of a love story that never really finds expression (that’s the “dare not speak its name” bit. You get my drift). Substituting for this lack of romance is a wealth of complementary genre matter. Expertly mixing vampire lore, paranormal fantasy, medieval historical and Goddess myth, the second book in August’s House of the Rose series certainly offers a lot for readers to feast on, providing they turn a blind eye to the romantic black hole at its centre.
In 13th century Europe, the vampire lords of the House of the Rose – the flying, aura-reading djinni – are busy protecting their mortal members and searching for new reincarnations of the House’s ancient souls. In Glass Souls, a lot had changed for the once powerful djinni Dominic. Badly marred after the death of his wife Honoria, Dominic lost most of his powers and was increasingly distrustful of the rule of djinni eldest Lady Cecilia. The only thing that kept him alive was his obsessive search for Honoria’s new reincarnation and the hope that he would once again be reunited with the spouse and soulmate who had shared nearly every lifetime with him. When he discovered Honoria’s soul reborn in the body of Crusader knight Michel de La Roche-en-Ardennes, he followed Michel to Flanders and recklessly transformed the Templar into a vampire Protector, hoping to bring back his memories as Honoria and to restore his immortal beloved to his side.
In House of Memory, the year is 1260 and Michel awakens a vampire. Little does he suspect that Lady Cecilia intervened during his transformation. Hoping to conceal her sinister part in the ancient secret that Dominic had discovered in Michel’s blood, she deliberately alters both Dominic and Michel’s memories in order to curb their powers and put them once again under her rule. With little access to his past-life memories, Michel is horrified by Dominic’s recklessness in abducting him and the latter’s often bloody recent past. While he readily immerses himself in the djinni lifestyle, he tries his best to get away from Dominic, sharing the beds of both Lady Cecilia and his mortal concubine Tirgit. Yet, he cannot ignore Dominic’s longing glances nor can he drown out Honoria’s insistent voice in his head yearning for her husband.
Dominic is desperate to be reunited with his long-lost love, but Michel is insistent that this can never be. When Dominic marries Michel’s gentle but ailing sister Mathilde and saves her life by transforming her into a djinni, he hopes she can cure his scarred aura and give his ailing spirit peace. Perhaps, he could even become an able Protector of the House again. Yet, Dominic also knows that he could never give up Honoria or the timeless love they share.
House of Memory shares many of the qualities of Glass Souls. It is imaginative, meticulously researched and doesn’t follow strict, sadly often restrictive, genre guidelines. In comparison to its predecessor, it is decidedly more single-plot driven. To me, this presents a distinct improvement since it allows for more focus and succinct character definition – even though the Michel/Honoria split personality characterization didn’t ring entirely true to me. First-time readers of the series might equally be confused by the follow-up’s occasional references to the much more extensive and saga-ish earlier book. Another word of caution for romance readers: this novel is not a romance and it does include subject matter (rape; hints of incest; child murder) that could offend the more delicate reader. What’s closest to any kind of love story is the Michel-Dominic relationship; yet, this it mostly evades, presumably because of its slightly atypical nature. As a consequence, it seemed at times that the novel revolved around a black hole right at its center. While I understand why the authors decided on this method, I still felt like I was being teased by a lot of textual foreplay without getting the final gratification. Perhaps more so because the end of the novel is quite abrupt and open. But I guess, always leaving the reader hungry for the next installment, always a good thing for a series.
The House of the Rose series is one I’m enjoying. What book number two lacks in romance and closure, it tries to make up by an innovative mix of genres and an overall thought-provoking plot. While the subject matter and its execution might not suit all readers, I confidently look forward to the third volume of the series, Broken Gods.