I have to admit I was a bit leery when I first picked up Staci Layne Wilson’s Dark Lullaby. Sure, it has all the elements of a good read — vampires, 1970’s rock & roll, twin female protagonists, a bit of voodoo, and even some historical references scattered throughout — but I’ve been burned enough times by recent horror novels (especially those involving vamps) to know that things aren’t always what they seem. Luckily, I was in for a real treat . . . and a few surprises along the way as well.
Dark Lullaby tells the story of Ashara Konrad, a successful and beautiful (is there any other kind?) rock photojournalist who also happens to be a vampire. When the novel opens, Ash has just discovered that her evil twin Zariaz is not dead as she believed but is instead quite alive and posing naked for all the world to see in a skin magazine called Heavenly Bodies. This, of course, complicates things a bit for Ash as she is mistaken for the woman in the centerfold. But that’s the least of her worries because she knows if Zariaz is back in action, that means trouble for musicians all over the world; and Ash begins to suspect that the recent slew of artist deaths — Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Duane Allman, and even Louis Armstrong — are the result of her sister’s obsession with fulfilling a curse Zariaz concocted over 100 years prior. The curse was the product of Zariaz’s failure to seduce Ashara’s lover, Ludwig Von Beethoven himself. After becoming a vampire and then turning her sister on the night of their 21st birthday, Zariaz vowed to sacrifice 1,000 musicians for the one she could never have. Once that is accomplished, she will be able to write “The Song,” making the collective soul of all mankind hers forever. (Although it sounds a bit convoluted here, it all makes perfect sense in Ms. Wilson’s capable hands.)
To make matters worse for Ashara, she’s beginning to fall in love with a musician who she knows will soon become a target for Zariaz. Her latest assignment is to photograph Darkside, an up-and-coming rock band fronted by a long-haired, sexy Brit named Liam Archer. She and Liam feel an instant attraction to one another, so when he invites her to hit the road with him as Darkside’s official photographer, of course she jumps at the chance. It won’t be hard for her to hide her true identity on tour with the band; after all, rock stars are just as nocturnal as vampires. From this point forward, we are treated to a cat and mouse chase that takes us from California to Arizona and then across the US with Zariaz never more than a step behind Ash and Liam, all the while taunting her sister with phone calls and other assorted messages, culminating with a trip to the Portuguese hacienda where the twins spent much happier times together in the early 1900’s.
Ms. Wilson’s prose is fast-paced and intelligent. After reading so many poorly written self-published books lately, it was nice to sit back and enjoy one that is free of typos and misused words. In many ways her style reminds me of early Anne Rice before she became so self-indulgent with page after page of superfluous description. Every word in Dark Lullaby is there for a reason — to engage the reader and advance the story. The sex scenes are steamy without being sleazy, and each chapter is cleverly named after a song from the era. Ms. Wilson also provides a few new spins on the vampire mythos that I thought quite unique and reasonable. Instead of merely sleeping during the day while the sun is out, her vamps literally die, only to be reborn each night at sunset. Also, they don’t just bite their victims and suck them dry; first they secrete a type of poison that paralyzes them so they don’t struggle too much.
But the most interesting hypotheses that Ms. Wilson sets forth involve historical figures like the aforementioned Beethoven and a few others that can’t be mentioned without spoiling the ending of the book. Suffice to say that this reader found it incredibly bold and creative! And speaking of the ending, it’s one of the best I’ve read in a very long time. Too many authors try to tie everything up nice and neat with a bow. Ms. Wilson obviously understands and appreciates the fact that life doesn’t always work out that way, and neither should a good novel. At this point in her career she may be better known as a horror journalist, but if Dark Lullaby is any indication, I have a feeling it won’t be long before Staci Layne Wilson joins the ranks as one of our preeminent modern horror novelists.
By Staci Layne Wilson
Amber Quill Press, LLC, 2003
4 out of 5
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