Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Review: Fangland: A Novel by John Marks

Fangland: A Novel
Fangland: A Novel by John Marks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up Fangland because the notion of a vampire running a TV news program from the inside, from the back description, intrigued me. Instead, I got a faithful adaptation of Dracula, brought to a post-9/11 New York City. I'm not unhappy with the story I did get, but it didn't match my expectations.

If you've read the original Dracula and liked it, you are highly likely to enjoy Fangland. On the other hand, if all you know of the vampire legend is from movies, you're likely to be profoundly disappointed. Many modern readers have picked up Dracula and wrinkled their noses at how boring and unsexy the source material is.

Fangland is similarly neutered, and the action sequences are few and far-between. Like Dracula, it's told through letters and journals and correspondence (in this case, emails). It does change a large portion of the story, though. Instead of Jonathan Harker, we get Evangeline, a young associate producer for the most-respected news program in the country. She's scouting Ion Torgu, an underground leader of speculated crimes in Eastern Europe, to see if there's a story. There is, but it isn't one she gets to dictate. Instead, she winds up some distance away with no memory of how she got there, thirsting for blood. Meanwhile, her co-workers back in NYC speculate and worry about her disappearance, until people start dying and there's a strange static hiss that sounds like place names everywhere you go on the 20th floor.

The original Dracula was an embodiment of a bloodthirsty warlord, but this defanged vampire (he drinks blood by cutting people with a knife and bleeding them into a pail) serves a deeper purpose of remembering the human faces behind the cruelty people do one another. That's where the book falls apart, for me, because the author seems to want to have it both ways. Torgu is both a monster and needed, to be feared and pitied. I might have wrapped my mind around that more thoroughly if Torgu hadn't killed dozens of innocent people in the text. That he should constantly name off cities of atrocities, but not include his own murders in the numbers, struck me as contrived, and it muddled the point of the ending.

In addition, the writing doesn't overcome the limitations of the style. It can be difficult to tell a story through correspondence, and I don't think the author quite rises to the task. He has characters transcribing conversations word-for-word in emails, down to where people paused to gaze out windows. He has conversations for which the recipient was present related in exacting detail. And one of Austen Trotta's journal entries is a recap of everything we've already heard in the narrative, which was frustrating and unnecessary. How convenient that the characters know their words are going into a book.

Overall, the author set himself a difficult task, updating a horror classic to a post-9/11 world and making it relevant to that world. His interpretation is interesting, but not always successful. Depending on how well you liked the original story, you may find this entertaining, or frustrating.

I listened to the book on audio, which had several different narrators. It did an excellent job of separating out sections and making it clear who we were following, except where they'd swap out narrators, and then I'd wonder why "the old guy" was narrating for a young woman, where "the news guy" had reported her sections before. I liked the voices, and most of them fit their personalities well, but it was sometimes confusing. Also, the tendency of two narrators to whisper when characters shouted sounded laughingly funny.

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