Here's an unusual vampire story: Blacker Than Black
features vampires, called lyche
, that feed on the energy ("chi") of living things. Black and Jhez are twins who work as Nightwalkers in the Blue Light District, selling their chi to the lyche that prowl the city they live in. One night while with a client, Black steals a bit of the vampire's own chi and the two are accidentally bonded together. Even worse, the vampire turns out to be Monsieur Garthelle, the lyche mayor of the city, who uses the bond to force Black and Jhez into working for him.
One of the first things I noticed about Blacker Than Black
was its intricate, meditative writing style which tells the story in present tense, first person perspective. Normally first person present POV is meant to pull you right into the character's head and offers an immediacy to the story, but Black's narration had the effect of distancing the reader, making it difficult to get into the story. The writing is strangely very fluid at times but then the flow is abruptly stopped by sentence fragments littered through out. It's also very dense-- there is a ton of detailed and sensual description which helps to set the mood and atmosphere of the book, yet it also caused me a lot of frustration as it was often extremely overwrought. I really struggled to keep my attention focused while reading because the writing style had the effect of shutting me out of the story. Not to say that it is bad; there's no doubt that the author can write-- Etzweiler uses some truly beautiful turns of phrase-- but much of it felt needlessly extravagant. Considering that Black and Jhez are orphans who have been living on the streets since they were children, it also seems strange that the narration from Black's point of view would employ such complex language.
The story opens in an alley at night in the Blue Light District, setting the dark atmosphere of the book. There is little explanation for how the world came to be the way it is, with vampires in positions of power after revealing their existence to humans some time ago. Instead, the worldbuilding focuses on developing the intricate political and social relationships of the lyche. The structure of lyche society is complex and layered, with many rules and social customs, and it is clear that the author has put a lot of effort into fleshing it out. It's a big part of the story but the explanations were confusing and difficult to follow, and the writing style certainly didn't help things. I already had trouble connecting to the characters so I couldn't really get invested in the vampire politics of the story.
In terms of the actual plot, there is a mystery that the main characters are trying to solve, but it isn't a mystery that readers can actually participate in. Since the entire book is told from Black's perspective, we are only given the very limited knowledge that he has, and as the book goes on, it becomes clear that a lot of information is deliberately hidden from him. The plot seems to move forward only when previously hidden information comes to light. Conversations are sometimes repetitive and often move very slowly-- one character says something, then a paragraph of dense description about his tone of voice, the light bouncing off his face, the ambiance of the room they're in, wondering about this or that; then the character spoken to replies and there is another paragraph of similar descriptions and inner dialogue. All this gives the book a meandering tone, and gave me the impression that Etzweiler was just writing in circles sometimes.
All in all, there are some interesting things in Blacker Than Black
but between the molasses-slow plot and the distractingly overwrought writing style, I found it a difficult and often boring book to read. I know it isn't meant to be a light read but I can't help but think Etzweiler overcomplicated many things unnecessarily. On the other hand, the lyche worldbuilding is a unique departure from traditional vampire lore, and I like that the relationship between Black and Garthelle moves slowly, with the author trying to establish a believable emotional connection between them before taking it any further. I just wish it was written differently.