by Barbara Sheridan and Anne Cain, historical/fantasy (2007)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 1-59998-372-9
Soul Of The Night is a collaboration between author Barbara Sheridan and illustrator/co-author Anne Cain. It's part of a series that I understand is called Dragon's Disciple. It's a yaoi story, which is to say, this is a homosexual romance featuring Japanese male characters in the lead. We have a vampire hero, Kiyoshi Ishibe, whose love affair with the human kabuki Ryuhei Nakamura encounters a rough bump in the road when Kiyoshi encounters a mysterious killer called the Poisoned Dragon in San Francisco and starts experiencing dark lusts and all that. In short, Kiyoshi is tempted to lose control and start acting like a vampire and naturally we can't have that since this is not a vampire romance and... hey, wait a minute. Even better, Ryuhei doesn't know that Kiyoshi is a fang face so he starts thinking that Kiyoshi has another lover on the sly.
Set in the late 19th century, Soul Of The Night is certainly rich in atmosphere, and while Kiyoshi is a very stereotypical romance novel vampire (oh no, please don't make him drink blood, nooooo), he is at least good in mimicking the pose and the dour expression of typical emo anime leading men out there. You probably know that sort: long hair blowing artistically in the wind in sync with his billowing great coat as he stands on a precipice overlooking the world, hangdog expression 24/7, a determination to act like it's so much of a burden being alone and miserable, that kind of the character. Still, even if Kiyoshi's a stereotype, the authors nonetheless manage to give Kiyoshi's internal struggles enough melodramatic hot air and drama to get me hooked on that fellow. I admit it, I'm a sucker for this kind of emo vampires if they sing the blues right, and Kiyoshi's internal struggles with the Poisoned Dragon are well-depicted and actualized to get me to care about his character. The whole plot revolving around the Poisoned Dragon is most interesting. It's just unfortunate that Kiyoshi has no original stand-out traits to make him memorable at the end of the day.
However, I know I have a big problem with this book when I'd rather see Kiyoshi hook up with the ghoul Gobei than to endure another second of that hideously irritating Ryuhei Nakamura's presence. This guy is constantly on drama queen mode like a grotesque freak of nature that resulted from the aberrant mating of the devil that wears Prada and a Katie MacAlister heroine. Ryuhei is hideously immature and very high maintenance, constantly acting self-absorbed to a ridiculous degree to the point that he actively hampers Kiyoshi at times because poor Kiyoshi has to stop whatever he's doing to try to calm Ryuhei down when that moron gets hysterical once again over paranoid jealousy or something in that vein. Forget the Poisoned Dragon, I'm no vampire but I'll volunteer to rip out Ryuhei's throat with my own teeth because I seriously loathe that psychotic kimono-wearing drama queen bitch.
To give the authors credit, they manage to get me to understand why Ryuhei behaves the way he does. A spoiled kabuki star who was banished from the stage in Edo due to an unwise affair, Ryuhei is a vain man used to being the center of attention. He doesn't know how to express his fear of being alone and losing Kiyoshi, the only adoring member of the audience left in his world after Ryuhei's personal Sunset Boulevard show has long been closed down, other than throwing temper tantrums and making a scene. He's very emotionally needy and is often pathetically clingy and insecure when it comes to Kiyoshi. I get that. However, Ryuhei keeps making all kinds of scenes and shrieking like a crazy tranny who has lost his prized wig that he fast becomes a one-dimensional pain in the behind to read about. Also, as much as I can see why Ryuhei is so codependent when it comes to Kiyoshi, I have no idea what attracts Kiyoshi to Ryuhei. Maybe Kiyoshi likes babysitting ill-behaved babies.
As for the love scenes, I don't know if it's intentional or not on the authors' part but I find that there is a cartoonish quality to them. I half expect Kiyoshi's eyes to widen to the size of dinner plates with stars sparkling in them after a love scene. My favorite line is in page 191. How can I find a love scene titillating when I am too busy laughing at lines like this?
"But I'm different now, didn't I just prove that?" he asked, squeezing Ryuhei's balls until he cried out.
The story also becomes more melodramatic in a cartoonish and even irrational manner when Ryuhei starts babbling about how Kiyoshi is still a man deserving of love and how he will trust Kiyoshi and feel safe with that vampire even when the vampire in question is treating his testicles like grapes with every juice meant to be squeezed out until only pulp remains. There's not much fun or suspense in following Kiyoshi's angst about not being lovable when his loverboy is shrieking hysterically that he will always view Kiyoshi as human and he trusts Kiyoshi no matter what because this is the Power of Love - feel my love, baby, PHWOAAARRRRR! - or something like that. By the time I close this book, I find myself thinking that this book crosses the line from Hellsing to My Little Pony territory at some point when Ryuhei offers Kiyoshi full access to his personal vineyard to feel the potency of the Ryuhei Magical Love that can heal even vampires.
With regards to the illustrations by Ms Cain, I suppose they're pretty enough if girly-boys are your thing but they are pretty stereotypical in the sense that the poses of the characters and the scenes they are depicted in are pretty standard yaoi stuff.
All I can say is, if Ms Sheridan and Ms Cain are going to continue producing yaoi stories set in the San Francisco Chinatown area during the late 19th century, I may just pick up a future instalment because it's not every day that I get stories set in such a setting. I can always use more romance novels written like they are anime set on paper, especially if the Dragon's Disciple series manage to incorporate elements from Japanese folklore to bring the setting to life. So how about it, Ms Sheridan and Ms Cain? More plot, less hysterical proclamations of the power of love that can apparently overcome everything and anything in our lives. While we're at it, more cool antiheroic emo guys patterned after Alucard and less screaming nellies patterned after Ruby Rhod from The Fifth Element, please.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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