Friday, April 19, 2013

A Sharpness on the Neck by Fred Saberhagen

Saberhagen seems to be attempting to create the same sense of mystery about the Dracula story as he did with The Dracula Tapes, by telling the story to the reader through recounting it to the descendents of someone who was part of the story. In The Dracula Tapes, it was Jonathan Harker's family, in this case, it's Philip Radcliffe's. Unfortunately, since we all know just how real the Count of Wallachia is, it falls a little flat.

The meat of the tale takes place during and shortly after the French Revolution, and the title of the tale refers not to  the fangs of a vampire so much as the bite of the newly invented guillotine. Dracula's evil younger brother, Radu, has been inadvertently freed from a long imprisonment by foolish grave robbers, and he is trying to get his revenge on Vlad, while enjoying the bloody mess of the revolution. Radu is one of those guys who gives vampires a bad name, taking more pleasure from his victims' pain and fear than from the sustenance derived from their blood.

The long and the short of it - When Vlad is badly injured by Radu's minions, he takes refuge at the family estate owned by Philip Radcliffe. His debt of honor forces him to aid Radcliff (and all his descendants into perpetuity) when the American falls into the clutches of the French authorities and is destined for the guillotine. The mechanics of the rescue are the only mysterious part of the story.

The sole saving grace of this tale is the amount of interesting trivia about the French Revolution and its victims. I never realized they had executed the famous scientist, Lavoisier, before. Makes me want to read up a bit. It also brought back fond memories of Weber's Honor Harrington novels, in which the revolutionary People's Republic of Haven is led by folks like Rob S. Pierre and Oscar St. Juste.

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