The Vitandi – those who have been excommunicated from the church – are the Twelve Apostles, cursed by drinking the blood of Christ from the Holy Grail. They are the progenitors of all vampires, having survived for thousands of years on the blood of the innocent and wicked alike. Now Kellan, the son of Simon Peter, is tasked with fulfilling an ancient prophecy that could earn salvation for all vampires. He must impregnate Nicole Erwin, a descendant of Christ, and the child born of their union will allow the establishment of a new covenant between the Apostles and Christ. The stakes are upped when Kellan and Nicole fall in love, forcing him to choose between obedience to men who’ve been his family for centuries, and the woman who holds his heart. Always acting within the shadows and striking out when least expected are the servants of Lucifer, seeking to prevent the prophecy’s fulfilment in order to obtain the Holy Grail and Apostles’ souls for their dark master. This is an intriguing work, a paranormal romance putting a fresh spin on familiar tropes in an attempt to offer something new. While there’s a lot in the writing and subject matter to recommend it, overall the story suffers due to poor treatment of the fascinating core concepts.
The novel starts strong, the prologue putting a unique twist on Christ’s words to his Apostles on the night of the last supper. It leaves us hungry for more, and open to a fresh interpretation of the vampire mythos. From Bram Stoker’s conception of the undead, to Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyer’s more recent renditions, vampires and their powers and weaknesses are as varied as their origin stories. In Batiste’s novel, vampires are ageless, heal fast, and the only sure things that kill them are fire, losing a head or getting stabbed through the heart. The characters are quick to point out that they don’t sparkle in the sunlight, though when they ‘shift’ into vampiric form they have their fangs elongate and their eyes turn violet. The narrative implies that every time a vampire feeds, the human in question dies, a choice rife with moral ambiguity for an audience used to vampires that can choose whether to kill or not.
Another interesting ability the vampires in this world have is the ability to have normal off-spring by having regular sex with mortal men and women. Kellan is the offspring of one such union, and his task is to do the same with Nicole. The chapters alternate between these two primary viewpoint characters, with the occasional chapter devoted to secondary characters like pursuing demons. Kellan is a movie-star lookalike living the high life with the accumulated wealth of centuries. His love and loyalty for the Apostles is well established, but the turning point is clear when his love for Nicole overrides his better judgement. Of the two, Nicole is the stronger character and just feels more real. Her actions and motivations are the clearest from the get-go, and her story is the most compelling of the two. You find yourself rooting for her and wanting to know that she’ll come out on top. Indeed, the supporting characters of her story arc often feel more rounded and better developed than many of the established characters that make recurring appearances in Kellan’s narrative.
Ultimately, the difference in the strength of the characters in the two narratives seems to rest on the vampiric nature of all the characters in Kellan’s story arc. Batiste does some brilliantly subtle characterisation in some places – Simon doesn’t like blasphemy, demons refer to vampires as mosquitoes – but then undermines it later. The Apostles are indistinguishable from a group of golf buddies or business colleagues, apart from the mention of blood drinking. Kellan is Simon’s son, and their interaction is just like that of two family members. Kellan has a habit of getting his way and is never disciplined, despite going against the will of a fraternity of beings a millennium older than he is. The fact that a human dies every time they feed is barely examined and quickly handled with a justification that vampires only feed on evil people now. There are so many opportunities to deepen the setting or examine the implications of decisions, but these are glossed over and moved aside so that the romance and the action can proceed.
To Batiste’s credit, the romance and action are the novel’s strengths. The interaction between Kellan and Nicole is electric, and the nerves on their first dates complement their later passion. The action sequences are equally well crafted, with the writing fast-paced and exciting. The writing style is fluid and engaging, and the pace never flags or gets bogged down. Despite that, The Vitandi suffers from being two separate genres in one – a paranormal romance, and a supernatural thriller. While both the romance and thriller are handled very well separately, jumping between the two styles compromises the text as a whole. Maintaining some mystery could have saved for the insertion of exposition in otherwise tense scenes, whereas foreshadowing could have stopped some other reveals from feeling too deus ex machina. The romantic confessions and revealed motives feel melodramatic and contrived when set against demons and vampires battling.
All in all, The Vitandi is easy to read, and neither the romance nor the action disappoint. The concepts at the core of this novel are intriguing and exciting, but many are poorly handled. Though the writing is good overall, the occasional block of exposition or lack of foreshadowing let it down. Batiste shows promise, but better characterisation of the vampires and a deeper examination of the vampiric condition would have made for a more immersive novel.
This book was reviewed using a copy provided by the publisher for that purpose.
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