Vampire novels these days seem to be very similar. Many of them involved a woman falling love – or lust – with an alpha male vampire. Sometimes the female protagonist can be a kick-ass, superwoman type, while other times her life revolves the man she is focused on.
Well, how about a vampire book that is almost entirely different from all the others out there? As in, where the men aren’t the heroes and women can be someone’s cup of tea?
British author Francis James Franklin likes to explore a vampire’s struggle between it’s monstrous nature and the humanity of it’s previous life. He also likes to explore female sexuality, especially in the realm of lesbianism.
Before you jump for joy or get enraged over more lesbian chic, I say relax. Taking a look at Franklin’s blog shows he is not exactly a Howard Stern-like drooling over girl-on-girl action. He admits that women’s sexuality can be powerfully dangerous and erotic. Too bad patriarchal oppression kept down powerful women for many centuries, and it looks like he explored how that can affect a woman in his self-published eBook, Suzie and the Monsters: A Fairytale of Blood, Sex and Inhumanity. He also brings his exploration of a vampire trying to remain human while being something inhuman to this book.
What drew me to this book were the reviews on Goodreads. I saw that the ratings were low for Suzie and I wondered why because Franklin seems to analyze issues pretty well. When I checked them out, there were many complaints of the explicit sex in this book. Many felt the scenes were far too graphic, and there were other complaints about the POV and the unconventional plot. But some described the main character, Suzie Kew (yes, that is her name), as a strong woman in charge of her life, yet mildly self-hating because of her vampirism. Intrigued, I decided to check out the book myself.
First off, yes, there is a lot of sex in this book. A lot! But I can attest that this is not erotica, like some have said. Erotica is when there is more sex than plot, and the sex goes on for pages or paragraphs in a very graphic manner. Most of the time, the sex here is just matter-of-fact. But there are scenes that make me uncomfortable, particularly one that happens in the very first few pages where Suzie rapes a girl in a club bathroom stall. Yeah, not exactly a protagonist to root for and I was very disturbed by that.
However, I admit I was interested in learning more about Suzie, who she was and where she came from. She didn’t seem psychopathic nor was she an angel. There was also the promise of what she did for a living that hinted a plot. When Suzie is not out clubbing, seducing women left and right, working as a pole dancer at a classy strip club, and obsessing over high fashion and the aroma of coffee, she assists a private investigator in tracking down missing girls.
Although there wasn’t much of a plot with that detective part – it was more like a side story the way it was written – it does offer a chance to get to know Suzie. With that, it becomes clear that this book is not a typical plot driven one, but a character study, and a statement on female sexuality and how women have suffered as second class citizens for centuries. As a woman who cares about women’s issues myself, I found it intriguing that a man will take on this feminist slant very well.
Throughout the book we learn about why Suzie is vicious and how she struggles with that. She has very good reasons to want to destroy all the monsters in the world (translation: men who brutally abuse women) but yet, she knows being driven by hate and vengeance makes her a monster, too. “And who would love me then?” she asks at the very last line of the story. Such is the conflict she’s been dealing with for 500 years.
At the heart of this story is Suzie’s blossoming relationship with Cleo, an 18 year girl finishing up school whom she met right after raping that girl in the bathroom stall (BTW: that girl pops up again later on, and we learn why exactly Suzie did what she did. Not to condone her actions at all, but it was not just sexual domination that drove our protagonist). It doesn’t take long for Suzie to fall madly in love with the naive but bright, young but strong, innocent but fearless Cleo. Cleo herself falls in love and leaves all that she has behind to follow the vampire she sees as a goddess. Along the way, there is plenty of blood drinking, both from the guys who kind of deserve it and those who do not. Oh yeah, lots of sex. But hey, that’s what two people do when they first fall in love, regardless of orientation.
I was enjoying this story very much until about two-thirds along the way. I really got into Suzie working for the private investigation in tracking down missing girls, and discovering a human trafficking scheme involving young women from Eastern Europe being forced to work as prostitutes in London. This is an issue I personally care about because it is horrifying that human trafficking is still being done, and the way the women are treated makes me both mad and sad. For those of you who’ve read my book, The Dark Proposal, you may recall there were brief moments where victims of human trafficking were depicted, but for very different reasons compared to Franklin’s book.
Anyway, I was enjoying this and hoping Suzie would emerge victorious in the end. But then there’s a part where she talks at great length about her history. I felt her doing so took away the momentum of the story, because it was gearing up for a big event, and I actually got bored reading about it. I know it was to help the reader understand where she was coming from and what drives her. But it turned the excitement down several notches.
By the end of the novel, I felt this was about a woman fighting for women’s freedom from brutal men who just so happened to be a vampire rather than vice versa. It is clear Suzie’s vampire status is second to that of her fighting for women’s freedom from brutal men, and that is definitely a different take on vampires in fiction. Unfortunately, it may confuse other readers on what to make out of Suzie. Is she a vampire? A sex-crazed lesbian? Or a woman who has dealt with and seen too many women suffer from patriarchy that she makes it her mission to get justice however she can?
Obviously, Suzie Kew cannot be put into a box and that is something not too many authors do with their main characters. Yeah, some may have villains with an apparent sweet side, but this protagonist cannot be pigeon-holed at all. Be prepared if you choose to read it so confusion won’t set in.
Overall, I liked Franklin’s writing style, how he structured his book (the chapters are not numbered, just named) and his exploration of topics that can make wood burn big time. This is a book that very different in a lot of ways, so do not expect this to be a conventional vampire/character study/lesbian love/social justice novel.
I give this book four out of five stars.