The Ancient Ones Book Review
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Welcome back to another Coffee, Book, & Candle review! Today, I'm reviewing The Ancient Ones by Cassandra L. Thompson. Minor spoilers will be discussed below, so those who wish to go in with no knowledge of the future, tread ye with caution.
Genre: Adult Gothic Fiction
Category: Spooky Read
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Rating: 4/5 Stars
I'm going to start with a little cover love cuz, mm, that gothic imagery. Wouldn't be surprised if people wanted to snatch that up for wallpaper—talk about cool promo.
Okay, onto the review!
The Ancient Ones takes place both in mid-1800s London and in various other historical places and timelines as readers follow the story of David, a vampire who has been alive since the time of Ancient Rome. In a manner reminiscent of Interview With the Vampire, readers get to relive David's memories as he tells his history to a dying young woman in Victorian England.
Stolen from his Celtic homeland and druid family and forced into slavery at the hands of Roman conquerors, the then-Davius begins his journey as a human: a boy who grows to adulthood in the employ of a better-than-most master and in the caring company of a slave girl, Gaia, who becomes his best friend and lover.
A decent chunk of the book is dedicated to the love story of Davius and Gaia, tempered by the grim reality of their station and their inability to marry as slaves, but brightened by Davius's hope for a better future if he can use his artistic skills to earn their freedom. I enjoyed this portion of the book because, well, I'm a sucker for a sweet romance, and Davius and Gaia were certainly that. Give me a goal for a couple to work toward, and I'm there rooting for them. Toss in Davius's recurring nightmares about a blood-drinking monster, a budding friendship with a dark and mysterious benefactor who admires Davius's art, and rumors of strange deaths around Rome, and we've got the makings of a hauntingly Gothic atmosphere—in Ancient Rome!
Here, I'll note that I very much enjoyed the Roman imagery and historical accuracy of the time period. Another thing I'm a sucker for: ancient history, especially ancient history done right.
Now onto the good stuff: vampires.
It's no secret at the start of the book that Davius will inevitably join the nocturnal crowd of blood drinkers. His mysterious benefactor, Lucius, plays a large role throughout the book, from Davius's transformation to his eventual descent into the loss of his humanity.
The struggle between light and dark, humanity and inhumanity, is a fitting theme throughout the book, with many deities seemingly interested in the outcome of Davius's life. This is where Thompson's use of mythology takes its own interesting turns, ones I was very thrilled with. For one, her depictions of ancient paganism are respectful and accurate, as was the introduction of the "new religion" (as it was at the time), Christianity. She weaves each religion together believably in a tapestry that makes sense in the grand scheme and does not disparage or favor one religion over another. Her take on mythology is a refreshing and unique twist on some of the well-known tales and archetypes.
From there, we follow Davius—now David—into 1400s Transylvania (then the kingdom of Wallachia), which did my vampire-and-goth-loving heart proud. Again, the historical accuracy here is another selling point, although there were a handful of instances where characters used a phrase that was not invented until much later. This is not enough to ruin anything for me—unless you have a stick up your ass about language, but then you might be upset it's not written in Latin and Old Romanian.
It is here that we begin to revel in the extent of Thompson's beautiful Gothic imagery, hinted at in the Roman sections. The dripping, sensuous descriptions of blacks, reds, candles, sweeping robes, blood, and rich decorations are everything you want out of an aesthetically pleasing read.
Which is, alongside the many instances of gore (beware ye those with soft stomachs), why I slotted this into my Spooky Reads. Lovers of Anne Rice and Edgar Allan Poe will find plenty of October-worthy enjoyment in the lush imagery and extravagant vampire shenanigans.
That being said, I will note that the action scenes were quite rushed, which is the only reason it sits at four stars and not five. This is not an action-heavy book, more of a Gothic drama infused with death and romance, but the action it did have left me re-reading to figure out what I had missed. Some of the action, particularly toward the end, was put on hold to conveniently explain things in the heat of battle, which ended abruptly thereafter with seemingly little effort on the protagonist's part. This did bump me out of the story, but I could always be drawn back in with the dark imagery and air of melancholia.
Final thoughts: this is absolutely worth a spooky-time read, especially for people like me who flock to Poe stories and Dracula movies this time of year. If you like historical accuracy, interesting and well-researched mythology, traditional vampires with unique twists, and Gothic aesthetics, then this is the autumn read for you.
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