It is 1845, and Arkady Tepesh has been called home to bucolic Eastern Europe after the death of his father. He is the last of his line, and management of the family estate must pass to him. His sweet, heavily pregnant English wife Mary travels with him to meet the in-laws for the first time. Like any new wife, she is healthily suspicious of them, and soon begins to realise that something is very rotten in Uncle Vlad’s sprawling castle, set in acres of gloomy forest in the heart of beautiful unspoilt Transylvania ...
Covenant with the Vampire is composed of extracts from the journals of pragmatic Arkady, sensible Mary and Arkady’s sister Zsuzsanna, who is mad. It’s the first in a prjected trilogy by Jeanne Kalogridis, a ‘bestselling American author whose work, published under a pseudonym, has been translated into seventeen languages’. Any guesses? Here’s a clue: I don’t think it’s Anne Rice. Despite a blurb which promises an ‘erotic, stylish and page-turningly terrifying’ novel, Covenant is less bloody and sensual by far than Rice’s novels. (Granted there’s a certain amount of biting and sucking, as has come to be de rigeur in vampire novels, but it takes more than that to make an erotic novel). Kalogridis’ style is (deliberately) more reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s as she charts the gradual descent of Arkady Tepesh from man of reason to supernatural creature.
At first Arkady’s journal entries are a triumph of Victorian rationalism over ignorant peasant beliefs. After a long journey through a dark and stormy night (of course) to his uncle‘s castle, the first person he sees is his brother - who died horribly as a child - pointing ominously into the forest. A lesser man would run screaming: Arkady sensibly attributes the hallucinations to ‘the stress of travel’, adding, ‘I am a modern man who puts his hope in science rather than in God or the Devil’.
As the novel progresses, however, his naivety begins to seem like blind stupidity - especially when contrasted to Mary’s growing fears, confided only to her diary. Arkady’s fears are still those of a rationalist: that the police won’t believe him when he reports a servant’s disappareance, that the peasants are abusing Vlad’s good nature, that a guest has accidentally fallen from a high window. Only when he begins to recall some of his repressed childhood memories does he realise the horror of his situation.
Never one to place his faith in the supernatural, Arkady devises a cunning stratagem which may save his immortal soul, but will estrange him from everything he knows and loves. Once aware of his doom, he becomes an altogether more interesting character - as does Mary, never a weak woman but hitherto constrained by the mores of her time.
As this is the first in a trilogy (which will end where Dracula started) a cliffhanger ending is to be expected, and Kalogridis doesn’t disappoint.