Shivers and Sighs Week: Review: Bloody Valentine

Review By J. Keith Haney

De La Cruz, Melissa. Bloody Valentine. Hyperion Book CH (December 28, 2010). 160pp. Hardcover, USD $14.99; Kindle, USD $8.54. ISBN-10: 1423134494; ISBN-13: 978-1423134497.

In Stephen King’s classic horror overview, Danse Macabre, King cited Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a perfect example of Rule #13 in Wilfred Strunk and E.B. White’s Elements of Style. The rule, as I’ve said in a previous review, is: “Omit unnecessary words,” an easier rule to cite than it is to follow. Still, several of my favourite writers of the past twenty years – Max Allan Collins, Andrew Vachss, Robert Bloch – have demonstrated how careful word choice can paint a better, more effective picture than just prose that goes all over the place. To that select list, I would like to add Ms. Melissa De La Cruz. She applies that same discipline to Bloody Valentine, her short story collection of supernatural romance.

I think I’m already hearing the groans among you, dear readers: “OMG!” “Not another vampire sex story!” “Haven’t we seen this before?!” I say to you, respectfully, HUSH. Ms. De La Cruz proves that the workings of the human heart are more mysterious and fascinating than any Twilight-lite scenario you might be envisioning. This is a trio of short stories (none of which are QUITE long enough to count as novellas to my mind) which are linked to Ms. De La Cruz’s ongoing Blue Bloods saga. But before anyone starts grumbling with yet MORE Twilight comparisons, let me assure you that you do not have to know anything about said saga to enjoy these stories. I certainly walked in wholly ignorant and came out completely entertained. In fact, based on what I’ve read, the Blue Bloods story is what Twilight wishes it could be.

The collection kicks off with “Just Another Night In Suck City” (with, we are told, apologies to Nick Flynn). Lovelorn Oliver is hurting from his breakup with his vampiric paramour, Schulyer Van Alen, in the midst of New York City in November. Worse, because he is a familiar (a human who is addicted to the act of being fed upon), he craves the sensation of the vampiric kiss as badly as any junkie craving his fix. But the fact that Schulyer is gone is the worst part, driving him to his favourite watering hole, the Holiday Cocktail Lounge. The bar is run by a pretty girl of eighteen…who never seems to age. Reading this story may make you remember your first serious breakup and all the pain with it. All the little reminders of the person you loved…the desperate measures you take to kill the pain…the final acceptance of the relationship’s end. Oliver’s journey is incredibly universal.

The second story, “There Is Always Something There To Remind Me” (which might have been a more appropriate title for the previous story) takes place at Endicott Academy in 1985. Allegra Van Alen is a popular Blue Blood girl, and captain of the lacrosse team, who is having trouble with Latin (That would be the human version; apparently, the Blue Bloods have kept the original language more intact). Her search for a tutor leads her to Bendix Chase, who just happens to be the most popular boy at the academy. She fights her feelings but she falls for him. Before anyone starts making comparisons with the saga that starts with a T, let me admit that there are a couple of complications. First, she’s apparently engaged to her bondmate, her twin brother Charles (There’s a karmic debt reason for the arrangement that is never really explained). Second, when she makes Bendix her familiar, she gets a harrowing vision of the future…which includes a daughter named ‘Schulyer’. By the end of the piece, Allegra thinks that she has avoided the future that she saw. But the story before and after make it plain that nothing could be further from the truth.

The final tale, “Ring of Fire”, is definitely the pulpiest of the bunch. We, at long last, meet Schulyer herself, making wedding arrangements in Florence in the month of December. Her groom is one Jack Force AKA Abbadon, Angel of Destruction. Sadly, for both of them, Schulyer’s grandmother has to complicate things (insert your favourite meddling mother-in-law joke) by sending a pack of Venators, the Blue-Blood equivalent of the Gestapo. To make her cooperate, they kidnap Oliver (who has accepted an invitation to the wedding). The action here can best be described as Underworld-meets-Legion, but the characters and their choices are what take center stage. Thanks to various traps left by the Venators, the ordeal is nothing less than a test of the bond between Jack and Schulyer. Nor, when our lovers triumph, does it become happily ever after. Ms. De La Cruz makes it plain that the wedding is merely a brief safe harbour. The lovers will soon be parted.

The skeletal prose of Ms. De La Cruz is astounding in that she manages to pack so much detail into so few words. The love scenes bring to mind the work of D.H. Lawrence, more focused on the feeling of the act than the actions themselves. But the real surprise is that all the characters come off as fully fleshed-out. With the exception of the Venators (for obvious reasons), you can find things both great and small to relate to our cast.

Another person could complain about the impossible physical perfection of our leads (Allegra has some thoughts on the subject of perfection that are worth remembering) or how some details are never spelled out (I would argue that Ms. De La Cruz wrote her books for a reason). None of that strips out the enjoyment of reading these stories. Pull away the supernatural trappings and all that remains is the same human race that has been struggling with the concept of love for its entire existence as a species. This is the one book that I could say anybody could read and appreciate on Valentine’s Day.

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Bio: J. Keith Haney is a recovering game addict, collector of classic comic stories, and general man of mystery.