The Reluctant Miss Van Helsing
Vampires and satire. What could be more fun? I went into this tale of a reluctant vampire huntress hoping for a fun diversion. While it did have a few funny moments, the book also featured historical missteps that yanked me right out of the story and comedy which did not hit the spot for me at all.
Ethel Jane Van Helsing comes from a famous family of vampire hunters and has been raised to follow the family cause. Her training included just about every means possible of doing in the undead who apparently roam London society in droves. Our poor heroine simply lacks the stomach for killing, though, and her previous staking attempts have all ended not just badly, but in great humiliation to Jane.
Jane’s father gives her the chance to redeem her standing in the family by taking out the feared and evil Dracul. She is to attend a party, seek out Dracul (masquerading as the Earl of Wolverton), and kill him with holy water. Of course, Jane’s plan goes awry as they often do and she winds up in the company of the Earl of Wolverton, but doesn’t manage to do him in. Instead, the shoe is on the opposite foot when she finds herself quite done in by the condescending Earl’s rude manners. A strange dance of attraction ensues as Jane finds herself unexpectedly drawn to Wolverton, even as she tries to kill him. Wolverton, on the other hand, tries to dismiss Jane as plain and awkward, but somehow her wit (and her giant boobs – which Wolverton ruminates on ad nauseum) intrigue him.
Though expected to be a fierce vampire hunter, Jane is much more fond of parties, pretty dresses, birdwatching, and all manner of fripperies. As such a traditional Regency miss, her character gently pokes fun at the habits of some of the 21st century heroines in Regency attire seen in many historicals. At times, this satire is amusing, but Jane can be such a twit that it really is hard to like her – particularly for the first half of the book.
In addition, many of the gags associated with Jane’s pursuit of Wolverton just aren’t all that funny and much of the dialogue in the novel just seemed silly and forced instead of witty. As Jane and Wolverton’s relationship develops, the second half of the story picks up somewhat, but the characters are not likable enough to rescue the book. In additon, while the author notes that she is not trying to be historically correct, some of the anachronisms in this tale jerked me right out of the story. I can accept many slips, but a Regency heroine quoting from Dickens and Tennyson (born 1812 and 1809, respectively) just isn’t one of them.
While parts of this vampire Regency farce, particularly in the second half of the book, are truly funny, slogging through the first half of the story takes some serious effort. Good satire can be wonderful, but when the jokes fall flat as they do too often here, it makes for a less than wonderful read. The Regency historical world is certainly ripe for satire, but this just isn’t one I can recommend.