I don't read many vampire stories. And no, it's not because The Vampire Series soured me on them. I've just never seen the appeal of vampires in general. The one exception would be Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off, Angel, because Joss Whedon’s use of vampires within his series is awesome. Those series aside, I tend to approach vampire stories with some reservation. The last vampire book—straight-up vampire book, not a book with vampires in it, like one of the Dresden Files books—I read was The Midnight Guardian. And as I said in that review, it had a premise that couldn't really go wrong: "Vampires kicking Nazi ass."
That's what a vampire book needs to get—and keep—my attention. Fortunately, Thunder and Blood has such a premise: "Two women get stranded in an alternate Earth ruled by a feudal vampire oligarchy." Yes please!
In Voss' alternative vampire history/mythology, vampirism kicks off with Charles V and quickly spreads throughout sixteenth century Europe. I have a few reservations about the way Voss pitches her timeline—supposedly Charles V sires Leonardo da Vinci. These two did overlap, but only when Charles was young and Leonardo quite old. On a similar note, we have the matter of language. Hillard can speak English and French in addition to German because he learned them in school. Yet the English of the sixteenth century was quite different from the English of today. Moreover, as our two universes diverged, so too would our modern evolutions of English—especially if Shakespeare did not make his contributions to the language. Voss doesn't touch on this part of her history (why would she?), but I wonder if, with Henry VIII remaining on the English throne, Shakespeare ever rocked the English-speaking world.
I nitpick because it is obvious that Voss has put a lot of thought into her new universe. Unfortunately, it is obvious because of the amount of exposition present in the dialogue between Sarah and Hillard and between Christine and Lord Radek. The objections I mentioned above are minor obstacles, but this matter of exposition is not. For the most part, these conversations are tiresome but tolerable, more clumsy than they are detrimental to the pacing of the plot. There is one that occurs closer to the end, when Lord Radek sits down with Hillard and they have it out about Hillard's history and his purpose in this area. The conversation is long, introduces dead characters we don't care about, and does little to further anything except reveal that Hillard is a good guy (shocking, that).
This inconsistency is probably the most frustrating thing about Thunder and Blood. Voss has created a great story and characters who are, mostly, interesting. And most of the time she gives these characters the voices they deserve and makes her narrative come alive. But once in a while, mostly toward the end of the book, these voices falter, and you get the sort of flat, clunky writing that engenders the exposition I noted above. You get random characters (I'm looking at you, Conrad) coming out of the woodwork at the last moment, no warning. You get a story that starts out wild and wondrous, and ends rather predictably.
Sometimes Thunder and Blood is amazing and impressive. When something happens to Hillard and I wonder why, Voss is right there with a pithy explanation of the part of her vampiric rules governing that event. Sarah and Christine are separated, and Sarah wants nothing more than to find her sister and return home. At the same time Christine, is held prisoner in a castle with a crazy vampire lord; escape is simultaneously the thing closest to and further from her mind. I love how Voss has constructed a society that, at least on the surface, seems like it works (I have some reservations about this too). And sometimes Thunder and Blood, as I noted above, is disappointing.
By way of postscript, I have to say, as someone who has lived in Thunder Bay all his life, it's neat reading a book set in the area around Thunder Bay. That being said, I think if I saw the phrase "Sarah saw her familiar friend the Sleeping Giant" one more time, I would have thrown the book across the room.
Thunder and Blood is a good book with a refreshing view of vampires and alternate history. Since Thunder and Blood was about vampires, I'm guessing Thunder and Ice will be about Sarah and Christine's struggle against invading yetis? Can't wait! Seriously though, while this review has been heavy on the criticism, that's just because I don't want to get too repetitive with the praise. It's a wonderful story that's not without its flaws, but it does vampires well.