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, because I wouldn't be surprised if people wanted to snatch that up for wallpaper—talk about cool promo.
Onto the review!
The Ancient Ones takes place both in mid-1800s London and in various other historical timelines as readers follow the story of David, a vampire who has been alive since 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, 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 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!
I loved the Roman imagery and historical accuracy. 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 from Davius's transformation to his eventual loss of humanity.
The struggle between light and dark, humanity and inhumanity, is a fitting theme throughout the book, with many deities interested in the outcome of Davius's life. This is where Thompson's use of mythology takes its own interesting turns. Each religion is believably woven in a tapestry with refreshing and unique twists on well-known tales and archetypes.
From there, we follow Davius—now David—into 1400s Transylvania (then the kingdom of Wallachia). Again, the historical accuracy here is chef's kiss.
Here, we get to revel in beautiful gothic imagery: the dripping, sensuous descriptions of blacks, reds, candles, sweeping robes, blood, and rich decorations are everything you want out of gothic aesthetics.
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.
While it's not an action-heavy book, more of a gothic drama infused with death and romance, some of the action felt rushed toward the end. The final battle seemed interrupted by exposition, then ended abruptly thereafter. This did bump me out of the story, but I could always be drawn back in with the dark imagery and air of melancholia.
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, this is the autumn read for you.
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