2 out of 4 stars
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The Hand Bringer is an ambitious, century-spanning vampire action book with bounteous splashes of battles, love, and heroism.
Chris Pennington has a clear love for the vampire genre and Romania. He asks the reader to time travel from the present USA to medieval Romania, following a team of agents in their quest to change the course of history. They must defeat a vampire army, led by Dracula, to save the modern world. Their key weapon is a street cop called Hadrian. Experiments on Hadrian have made him immune to vampire bites and given him superhuman strength.
The initial set-up in the modern world is perhaps a little too drawn out - the best parts of the book are those set in the past. Once in Romania, there are some touching historical and anecdotal details. You get the sense of the author’s love for the area and era.
Once in Romania, it’s almost a non-stop slew of fights, deceptions, and revenge. Our agents become knights, fight, create armies, and fight more. They eventually confront the true enemy of the book, a huge vampire army.
Dracula is the central evil point, the counterbalance to our heroic Hadrian. It’s a classic good versus evil set-up and several subplots mirror this, with various levels of success. The protagonists flip emotions quickly and inconsistently, stunting some of their development. Love stories abound, particularly the crossbreed vampire/human ones, albeit none hook you because they are not sensitively enough drawn. There are some heart-wrenching decisions as the book nears its conclusion.
The Hand Bringer never takes itself too seriously. The writer invents backstories on the hoof or to make a scene more believable, there are some odd asides at crucial moments and the battles are dizzyingly chaotic. Accept those flaws and what you have is a bouncing holiday read, with enough plotline to keep you going.
What I liked most about The Hand Bringer was the hero, Hadrian. You can almost hear the trumpets blaring as he rides in to save the day, or rescues his friends or troops from danger. He has layers; loyalty and love create internal conflict. He also dwells upon the consequences of his actions for both the present and the past.
There are some well-hidden plot twists, too. Chris Pennington produces several surprises. It’s difficult to weave together two worlds with endless consequences for every action, yet he moves his characters around with some skill and always with plenty of motive. There are, however, some missed opportunities to develop the drama.
What I disliked most about the book was the clunky dialogue of many characters. Peter has two present-day companions with him in Romania called Bat and Luke. Both are ridiculously overdrawn, and the badinage is excruciating. Bat’s hillbilly redneck grates against Luke’s ‘articulate’ persona. This is just one example of many annoying speech traits the author lumbers his characters with.
I rate this book 2 out of 4 stars. There is an engaging story in the book and fans of this genre will love it. The Hand Bringer could be a very successful film if properly edited. The book loses a star because of the dialogue, confusing action scenes and inability to fully explore its potential.
It will appeal to all vampire fans and people who like heroic fantasy and medieval battles. It won’t appeal to people looking for authentic horror stories or top-quality, evocative writing.
The Hand Bringer
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