Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Betty, the Vampire Slayer

Forget the pom-poms and wooden stakes - Elizabeth I of England blasts bloodsuckers to kingdom come with raw magic in this retelling of her history

first published in The Malay Mail Online, 03 July 2013

As queen, Elizabeth Tudor, also known as Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603), was noted for slaying some notable things. Mary, Queen of Scots. The Spanish Armada. But what if she also slew vampires?

That's the premise behind The Secret History of Elizabeth Tudor, Vampire Slayer. The novel's marketing set-up touts it as the start of a "sumptuous new series" based on the Virgin Queen's "never-before-seen" diaries, "revealed to the world" by Lucy Weston, the minor vampire character in many Dracula films and the "owner" of the seemingly defunct "Weston" is also credited as the novel's author, but I have no idea who is/are behind "her."

The novel begins days before Elizabeth's coronation, court official William Cecil and polymath Dr John Dee lead the future queen to her mother's gravesite where she begins to glow, smells roses and hears her mother's voice.

It turns out to be more than just pre-coronation jitters. Liz (let's call her "Liz"; "Betty" is still too long) is revealed to be a slayer of vampires and descendant of Druid priestess Morgraine (a.k.a. Morgan le Fey), whose powers have awakened in her.

Cecil and Dee confess to being members of a circle entrusted with this secret and her protection. She is less than pleased with the revelation, but eventually embraces it for the sake of her kingdom.

The vampires are led by Mordred, the illegitimate son of the legendary King Arthur and, therefore, a legit claimant to the English throne. He joined the creatures to save England a thousand years earlier. Back then, he courted Morgraine and offered her the same deal, but was rebuffed. Now, he's eyeing Liz.

On the night she is crowned, Mordred warns Liz of the dangers she and her kingdom faced from rival countries and the Pope and offers her power and protection from those dangers – if she becomes his vampire queen. He's told to sod off.

However, Liz finds him charming, despite what he is, but she also has those rival kingdoms and court intrigues to deal with. There's also the ironically vampiric nature of her gift which, among other things, allows her to blast vampires to smithereens with energy bolts; every bloodsucker she kills feeds her powers and urge to kill more of them.

Besides Cecil and Dee, other real-life figures here include Liz's governess, Kat Ashley; Francis Walsingham, who would become the royal spymaster; and Robert Dudley, the queen's long-time companion and reputed lover.

Written in a way that brings to mind Shakespeare, this two-narrator work barely registers as Harlequin horror. Though convincing from a historical viewpoint, the novel stumbles when it came to the romance/horror bit.

Scenes with Liz and Mordred are more like a dance, not tussle, of emotions, even as the two are torn between duty and their mutual attraction to each other. The plot feels loose and almost every twist can be predicted. Except, perhaps, how it ends.

And Mordred, that powerful, time-warping and space-bending immortal being of the night, is so addled by his feelings for the fledgling queen, judging from his side of the story.

To the chagrin of Lady Blanche, the token jealous other woman and his second-in-command, he still hopes that Liz will join him, even as she starts slaying his kin.

I say it's because of her rank and powers. Slayer Liz comes off as a wilful royal brat, steeped in the belief that her right to lord over her subjects is divinely ordained; any talk of altruism, charity and justice seems obligated by faith and duty.

Nor does she believe the "radical" idea that all men are equal: "Truly, if that addled notion ever becomes common currency, the world will be undone." She's so made for Mordred.

The romantic "tension" between Liz and Rob Dudley feels just as obligatory. The blow-hot/blow-cold stuff and love scenes are all by the numbers. Rob's a pitiful, poor rival of Mordred. Historically, Rob never got to marry Liz, partly due to the queen's vaguely feminist tendencies. He must feel even more inadequate, now that his royal lady love can go pew pew pew like the Death Star.

The ending and the asides by Mordred in the first part of the "secret diaries" seem to hint at a future continuation of and a dark turn in Elizabeth Tudor's so-called secret history as a vampire-killing machine.

But would such a series still be viable, now that the Twilight saga on the big screen has ended and, perhaps, driven the last nail into the coffin of a tired, well-milked genre?

This review is based on an advanced reading copy.

The Secret History of Elizabeth Tudor, Vampire Slayer
Lucy Weston
Gallery Books (2011)
304 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4391-9033-3


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