I didn’t expect to be reading another one after the last one, but I guess what they say about vampire romance novels is true: it never rains but it pours.
Actually, The Rest Falls Away has been on my to-read list since 2009, long before Dracula, My Love waltzed its way into my life. The tagline everyone uses to describe this book is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Regency England”, and I’m unoriginally repeating it because it’s so damn accurate.
Trigger warning in this review for romance nerds, because of course romance is one of these genres where my hypocritical genre snobbery becomes evident.
As far as romance novels go (I did warn you, romance nerds), The Rest Falls Away is impressive. Colleen Gleason balances the necessary relationships and love polygons with an intense, action-packed plot with a kickass but fallible protagonist. It is, in many ways, more interesting and more satisfying than many of its urban fantasy ilk to which I’ve subjected myself. Gleason enjoys coming up with new and inventive ways to kit out Victoria despite the restrictions of her Regency garb, not to mention all those excuses she needs for running out of parties to dust vamps.
The keyword from the last sentence, even though I didn’t actually use it in the sentence, was fun. The critical third ingredient to this book, in addition to its romance and action, is a thread of dark humour. This undercuts Max’s unctuous brooding concern over Victoria’s fragility and Rockley’s boring, bland declarations of love. Driven by the stark contrast between Victoria’s obligations in her respective lives as society debutante and vampire slayer, this humour is the same element that made Buffy work so well.
Like Buffy, Victoria finds herself with some new love interests following her induction into the world of the supernatural. In addition to Rockley she finds herself inexplicably attracted to Sebastian Vioget, owner of a nightclub where vampires and humans drink together in an uneasy truce. Though not a vampire, Vioget is far more powerful than an ordinary human, and he gets Victoria all hot and bothered. Then here’s Max, protégé of Victoria’s Aunt Eustacia; though he is old enough to be her father and unfailingly rude towards her, there’s still sexual tension that never seems to go away.
The romance part of this book is fairly tame, at least as I understand these things from my limited experience. Victoria gets engaged to Rockley without much fuss, and they fight a bit when he discovers she isn’t being truthful with him. But there seem to be few obstacles, at least until the climax—which really is a gamechanger—to their happiness. For this I’m personally grateful, although I wonder if it’s more of a consequence of one of my major criticisms about the characters.
Victoria is a wonderfully-developed protagonist. Her heritage provides many perks and powers, but Gleason balances this with Victoria’s inexperience. Victoria makes several unwise decisions over the course of the book as a result of ignorance, overconfidence, or pique—but these bad decisions are realistic given the circumstances, rather than contrived for reasons of plot-induced stupidity. She genuinely agonizes over whether to reveal her secret identity to Rockley, and we share in her unease over leading this double life.
I wish all the other characters were so interesting! Instead, everyone else seems to be flat, stock characters torn from the pages of other romance novels. Verbena is the stalwart, trustworthy maid—an Alfred to Victoria’s Batman. Rockley is the Standard Rich Love Interest; there is literally nothing memorable or unique about him. Victoria’s mother and her entourage are standard society women, hellbent on matchmaking because they are too old to have any fun themselves. Aunt Eustacia receives slightly better treatment, but she is still mostly there to serve the role of wise, old mentor.
The other thing holding The Rest Falls Away back is its lack of a strong central antagonist. Nominally this is Lilith, oldest of the vampires and lover of Judas Iscariot, the first vampire. She is supposed to be the Big Bad pulling the strings for the entire book, and we meet her at the very end. I understand that in not disposing of her Gleason is setting her up as a serial antagonist, and that’s fine. As an antagonist, however, she has many of the same flaws as the other characters: a swaggering, moustache-twirling characterization that makes her completely uninteresting. I enjoyed this book enough that I wonder how much more I would have enjoyed it with a truly terrifying antagonist to balance out Victoria’s protagonist.
With room enough for improvement, then, The Rest Falls Away hasn’t left me in a rush to read the next book in the series. But it’s a possibility. This is another book that belies genre snobs’ claims that romance, much like science fiction, belongs in a literary ghetto. Gleason demonstrates a talent for balancing the relationships of her protagonist with an action-filled story. If “vampires in Regency England” is what you want, then you should stop looking here.