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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Sinfonia: First Notes on the Lute-- A Vampire Musician in Elizabethan England

I haven't read a vampire novel in years.   As I said the last time I reviewed a vampire novel on my earlier blog, there are two types of formulas in vampire fiction.  Either all vampires are evil monsters or they are all heroic.  I have zero interest in either formula. Since vampires were born human, it seems more likely to me that they are quite diverse and should be as complex as human beings.  I rarely see an author who writes non-stereotypically about vampires.

 I am rather fond of the concept on which the Saint-Germain vampire novels by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is based because they are really historical fiction from the POV of an ancient immortal being who is an outsider in every human culture.  I enjoy them because I love historical fiction particularly when they are from the perspective of an outsider. Unfortunately, many recent novels in the Yarbro series contained a great many irrelevant info dumps to display the author's research.  I got tired of them and stopped reading the series.

So I was delighted to find Sinfonia: First Notes on the Lute by David W. Landrum which is the first volume in a series about Nelleke, a musician who was born in 16th century Holland.  I received a free copy from the author in return for this honest review.


The novel tells the story of how she became a vampire.   Landrum accurately portrays the era's severe restrictions on girls and women that led Nelleke to flee her native country for Elizabethan England. It might seem that this would be an ideal environment for a musician like Nelleke, but musicians required patrons from the nobility and were subject to their whims.   There was also intense fear of Catholic conspirators who might seek to overthrow their Queen.  Although Nelleke encountered such historical personages as Shakespeare, the atmosphere wasn't always like a frothy Tudor costume spectacle filled with endless entertainment.   Sometimes these cultural icons were under official investigation by the authorities whose tactics could be brutal. Landrum's depiction of Elizabethan England as a culture of contradictions and extremes was quite believable.   He obviously did his research.

The most interesting aspect of Sinfonia's universe is that Landrum develops vampire society.   I was very interested in the Wodies who lived in the woods and were scorned by the urban vampires for being uncivilized.   The Wodies subsisted on animal blood which meant that they didn't kill humans, but did mean that they hunted animals. Nelleke was taught to hunt humans who were murderers, rapists or other felons who the world would be better off without.  In some cases, they killed in defense of vampires.  It's true that they were acting as judge, jury and executioner.  Readers will judge these vampires on the basis of their own ethical code.   A vegan probably wouldn't consider any vampires ethically compatible.

I enjoyed Nelleke as a character and wanted to continue to read about her in historical contexts.   There was an excerpt from Sinfonia 2 which opens in the 21st century.   I sincerely hope that the sequel doesn't  stay there.   I was hoping to experience Nelleke's adventures in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.  Unless Landrum does a great deal of unusual development of vampire factions, institutions and practices in the 21st century, I probably would consider a 21st century novel about Nelleke too similar to other current vampire fiction.



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