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Those Who Hunt The Night/Traveling With The Dead
By Barbara Hambly

Reviewed by Michael Cornett
Rating: none given

Those Who Hunt By Night, by Barbara Hambly (1988), is set in the first decade of the twentieth century. It concerns the adventures of James Asher, former secret agent and now Oxford professor, who is hired by vampires to investigate the deaths of several of their kind in the London area. It seems that someone is killing vampires while they sleep and opening their coffins to daylight, leaving behind ashes and bones.

Hambly sets up a vigorous, fast-moving tale here, moving between the high-society enclaves of the vampire masters to the grimy cellars and catacombs of the vampire rabble. She sets up an interesting vampire culture, with each major city dominated by a vampire lord, who is ultimately a sort of undead gang boss and monitors the intrusions of any interloper. The causes of vampirism are left somewhat nebulous, leading to some interesting (and entertaining) debates on the exact origins of the bloodsucker syndrome. The atmosphere of a country heading inexorably toward WWI is well created; and the book's climax really packs a whallop.

The book's only major flaw is its characters. James Asher, his wife Lydia (a medical researcher), and Don Simon Ysidro (the major vampire character) are all well-thought-out; but they're nonetheless rather cold and flat and difficult to get involved with.

Hambly must have done some work on that problem in the years between TWHBN and its sequel, Traveling with the Dead (1995), because this time her characters have much more spark and seem much more warm and human (where appropriate).

In this new novel, Europe is even closer to war; and Asher, passing through a railroad station, spots a vampiric acquaintance heading for Paris in the company of one of the Kaiser's secret agents. Asher takes off in pursuit, following the nefarious pair across Europe to Constantinople, with Lydia and Don Ysidro following close behind, picking up the clues that Asher leaves behind.

Traveling works well with the paranoia of the time; and its combination of supernatural terrors with spy-vs.-spy intrigue mixes very nicely. Hambly's descriptions of prewar Vienna and Constantinople are very evocative, showing an attention to detail that makes the fantastic plotline plausible.

Hambly's vampire nightworld isn't too far from Anne Rice's; but it stands on its own very well. Hambly's vampires are neither saintly immortal creatures who just happen to drink blood nor the "pure Dracula" evil kind of vampire; they are morally ambiguous creatures who operate outside of human society and mores. This bloodthirsty netherworld makes for entertaining reading and, combined with compelling stories, makes these two books worth seeking out.

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