Frances Gordon is best-known for her work under another name. Fantasy fans will recognise the cheery gruesomeness that distinguishes Bridget Wood’s Celtic novels, beginning with Wolfking. Blood Ritual demonstrates that she can write contemporary horror at least as well as dark fantasy.
Michael Devlin is a journalist returning to Eastern Europe, where he lost his sight while investigating the fate of Bosnian refugees. With him travel Sister Hilary and Sister Catherine from St. Luke’s, the convent where he has been nursed as far back to health as is feasible; Hilary is accompanying him to the Viennese clinic where he hopes his sight will be restores, while Catherine is returning to her family home to visit her beloved brother, who is dying. Or so she believes.
Michael and Hilary travel to the Romanian borders in search of the organisation Tranz, which offers sanctuary to the dispossessed. Michael interviews a local innkeeper, and learns of Nazi atrocities committed within CrnPrag, the Tranz stronghold. He begins to formulate his own theories about the missing refugees - until Hilary visits CrnPrag and escapes with tales of something much older, much darker and with a great thirst for blood.
And Catherine? She’s been lured back to the familial bosom in order to accept the heritage she has been attempting to exorcise - that of her famous ancestress, Elizabeth Bathory, who had a taste for the blood of young girls. It’s a taste that lingers in her descendants, although without the sexual element which Elizabeth enjoyed so much. Back in London, the nuns of St. Luke’s are beginning to discover some unpalatable truths about Tranz, and about Sister Catherine - truths the family cannot allow to be rediscovered.
Gordon concentrates on the perverse sensuality of blood, rather than simply exploring the sexuality of vampires - or humans. Elizabeth’s descendants aren’t strictly vampires; they have a complex relationship with blood, rather than the simple physical addiction of the more traditional vampire. A complex and mature novel; it’s closer to the timbre of Anne Rice’s work than are many of the new crop of vampire novels, but with a style and tone which are refreshingly original.