4 out of 4 stars
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The Hand Bringer by Christopher J. Penington is a well researched and well-written book on a topic widely known and portrayed in literature and movies alike. From Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1897 to Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series in recent times, vampires have been put under the limelight, albeit paradoxically, for a long time. Yet, this book brings together history and fiction in the form of the historical figure Vlad the Impaler also known as Vlad Dracula or Prince Vlad Tepes, and the origin of vampires as found in Romanian folklore.
Peter Hadrian is a tough and smart police officer in Dallas who is grieving the sudden and unexplained disappearance of his son and the murder of his wife. One day while answering a distress call, Peter is attacked by a strange and powerful man. The near-fatal encounter sees Peter reach a top-secret governmental agency in Texas where he is reborn, as a result of genetic re-engineering, a new man with a new mission in life. While at the ASA, Peter meets the mysterious and beautiful Boriana who seems to know more about his life than he himself. Did he know Boriana from before? Will she help him or the vice versa? Peter's mission takes him in the past where he should eliminate an ancient pestilence before it becomes a scourge on earth. But with everything going wrong at the launch of the mission, will Peter be successful at his task and get his son back? Will his past show him the way to the future? Or, will he become one of them? I would be giving away the book if I tell anymore.
Vampires and vampirism are at the heart of the novel but the book goes beyond the stereotyped description of blood-sucking undead people to the possible origin of the disease; indeed vampires can be said to be inflicted with a deadly virus which turns them thus. The author's thorough research of Romanian history, ancestry, culture, and folklore are commendable. As Peter himself, being of Romanian heritage, observes that the Romanian people seem to have Magyar ancestry. So is the author's accurate portrayal of the ruler of Wallachia, Prince Vlad Dracula. It is interesting to read how Dracula ruled over Wallachia with a strict reward and punishment policy and how his acts of cruelty can be interpreted otherwise as his desire to unify the fragmented feudal aristocracies with mutual distrust among Slavic people and the Sasi or people of Germanic origin. The opening chapter with its terse statements and abrupt endings adds to the tense environment of the book and greatly increases the anticipation of the reader. Patriotism, courage, loyalty are the important themes around which the plot of the story revolves, though they can be interpreted differently. While Dracula's fight against Turkish invasions can be termed patriotic, his fight to conquer and subjugate Moldavia can be termed traitorous given their unified struggle against the Ottoman empire. The book flawlessly blends truth with fiction; from Dacian history to Dracula's way of punishing offenders by impalement to the origin of vampires. But the book also underscores the importance of keeping faith in Him in the fight against darkness whether that be an external threat or against internal thoughts if a man is to redeem himself in the eyes of God. The apt description of battlefields and military tactics is drawn from the author's personal experiences both in police and military.
Towards the middle part, the book seems to have been hurriedly edited with minor spelling mistakes. If Peter's recalling of past memories were in a different font, it would have been less confusing for me as I had to re-read some pages. The jump in the narrative technique keeps the suspension elevated and moves the story at a faster pace but at times seems to jump to conclusions. Without giving away the story, Peter knows he is in ASA headquarters and then is moved to Romania but the readers don't know how and when he was made aware of it. Likewise, I think Luke was given more opportunity to choose what to become than Elizabeth or Marin. The deep love that Elizabeth expresses for Luke doesn't seem to have been developed all along with the story, it is simply announced at the end.
I would rate the book 4 out of 4 stars irrespective of the minor errors and rushed conclusions for certain characters. I got to learn a few Romanian words like Nimic-nothing, Bine- good, Strigoi, and of course the meaning of the name Dracula which means son of Dracul. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the dry humor of Luke or the prison lingo of Bat or the Scottish dialect towards the end which reflects the author's knowledge of different forms of dialects spoken. The book can be enjoyed by history buff and Vampire enthusiasts alike. It is not meant for children and teenagers because of the graphic description of punishment, battles, and love. I would highly recommend young adults and grown-up to read the book before forming an opinion about vampires.
The Hand Bringer
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