Today, I’ll be reviewing Night Things, by Terry M. West, in case the title didn’t give that away. This is a NSFW review on account of some NSFW subject matter in the book, so if you’re easily offended or have a supervisor looming over your shoulder, come back later. Or don’t! Keep reading! Be awesome!
I have to note two things before we begin: One, I reviewed an uncorrected proof, so I’ll be glossing over grammar/style issues, and two, this is a book set in the same universe as several others of his, so it’s possible I missed things that running fans would’ve appreciated.
Onward, to the review!
The snapshot description of this book is as follows (this is part of the description found on Amazon):
Dracula, considered the messiah of the Night Things, builds an unstoppable army as he plots to wipe humanity from the face of the earth. The mysterious New York crime boss, Johnny Stücke (the creation of Frankenstein) wants to keep the peace between the Night Things and humanity. Stücke fears total extermination of his kind, should Dracula unleash his forces on New York.
The fight for the night begins.
…There’s only one problem with this. Roughly half the book isn’t about DvF at all. It’s about Gary Hack, an overweight, heroin-addicted porn director. Granted, it all ties in–Hack shoots a few snuff films where Dracula’s beloved children bite the big one, sparking the war–but there are major parts of the book not directly related to this conflict at all. They’re meant to build up Hack as a supporting character, though he’s ultimately not a sympathetic one.
There are a lot of interesting qualities to this book. The premise, for one: rather than just randomly clashing, the Drac-Frank relationship goes back over a hundred years, to the Fanged One’s adoption of the traumatized creation, enlisting “Primul” in the quest to build up an empire of “night things” (Drac’s rather uninspired name for any non-human entity).
The use of two timelines is another clever way to show both sides to the main baddies. The creature winds up living as a mobster in present-day New York City, where he mercilessly squashes the skulls of those who dare cross him. His relationship to the other, human-led mobs isn’t exactly clear–he says he could crush them all in an instant and has no use for them, but later says he could learn a lot from them–but that’s okay. They’re not really part of this action. The crucial take-away is seeing how ruthless he is in the present, then looking at his gentle past and piecing together how he got so cruel.
West also pays a lot of attention to world building. Readers will get to see all sorts of creatures in action, as well as how they either keep their cover or shout their existence to the world. Creatures involved include a succubus, zombies, werewolves/shapeshifters, witches, and an Egyptian god.
And yet, sometimes all this expansive interest takes the reader’s eye off the meat of the story, leading to flashy distractions. Along the same line, different names are used for each being. Vampires are sometimes called leeches, which is fine, but some werewolves are referred to as ‘shifters’ (as in, shapeshifters, a totally different creature) or furries. “Furries” also appears to be used once in reference to actual furries, making one scene very confusing. There is also a scene where some witches are referred to as necromancers, but they summon demons, not the undead, which isn’t quite right either (however, it is very common to conflate necromancy and demonology).
The only thing I’ll say about the language used is that the characters swing wildly from low-brow slang, i.e. I need some fuckin’ blow, to high-brow diction, like Do not stare into his ruthless, undead eyes. This makes for an inconsistent read, and proofs don’t tend to get edited more heavily than a copy edit, so it’s possible this issue persists.
Lastly, some details are thrown in with little lasting impact. The opening makes a huge deal about Johnny’s musical interests, taking a page or two to discuss how much he loves opera, and one specific classical composition, to make him seem high-class, but this is only mentioned once more in 150 pages. He also adopts a girl with Down Syndrome, but this too is only mentioned once more, and that prompts the mobster skull-crushing I mentioned earlier, making her seem more like plot fodder than a step toward inclusive writing.
I may pick out some flaws, but this was an engaging book overall. Hack may be a generally lousy guy, but at least he knows it, and there’s a refreshing element to his noir-like obsession with self-destruction. Johnny, likewise, is a complex character with some cliche traits and some redeeming ones, and leaves the readers with a reminder that he has some humanity in his many human parts. Dracula isn’t exactly the cool-and-capable vampire of legend, yet seeming a who-knows-how-old creature who is frequently thrown off-guard and subverted was a nice change of pace too.
The summary: Some inconsistencies aside, this was a book with a lot of heart. West clearly has a passion for otherworldly creatures, as shown in the extensive network of monsters into which he drops the readers, and his unusual interpretation offers a nice perspective. A few moments may be more jarring than some would like, but there is humor in these horror-lined pages, and a strong balance between human kind and otherwise. I give this 7.5 stars out of 10. If you’ve got some time and a few dollars, give it a look.