Love Bites Author: Ry Herman Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books Page count: 384pp Release date: 9th July 2020.
Angela was dead to begin with. Please indulge my deliberate misquote of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ there, but I can find no better way to indicate the state of the first main protagonist. This fun, well-written LGBTQ Vampire romantic comedy, starts in 1998, Scottsdale, Arizona, with Angela awakening mid rigor mortis and rather discombobulated. As Angela spends three nights, as per vampire lore, coming back to a semblance of life, Tess, her girlfriend, watches her, noting changes, in between processing photos in her darkroom. On the third night, Angela wakes, confused and very thirsty, and wonders what the hell Tess has done to her. Tess on the other hand is quite happy, afterall, Angela can’t leave her now. Or so she presumes. A year or so later, she’s escaped Tess, is in Massachusetts with a couple of housemates Shelly (submissions editor) and Mike, whilst working on her thesis and hitting the clubs in goth gear to grab a quick bite. Literally. Second main protagonist Chloe has the delightful job of going through Shelly’s slush piles. And desperate for help, she sublets her rental to Ari (Ariel) a very androgynous guy with long hair and a strange air about him. He seems quite nice, well, that is until he tells her about the religion he’s created. And then there’s strange aunt Esther who teaches Ari to play cards, whilst also predicting various futures, and sharing centuries old stories from her life. There’s a wonderfully wry wit to the narrative as stereotypes are embraced and played with: from cult leader to goth wanabee, I chuckled very often as I recognised the characters and got the meta references. Ari’s faux sermon in chapter three ‘The Parable of The Monster and The Girl’, whilst being a fun parody, is also frighteningly realistic. It’s an accurate allegory of domestic abuse and gaslighting. This is one of the serious issues explored within the novel, as well as self harm and depression. For anyone who writes, edits or has worked within the publishing industry, it’s also a great look through the lens of the slush pile reader, and also has very witty moments, with examples of horrendous submissions. For this ’90s ex rock-goth youth, the scene setting is incredible and the whole thing is like a love child of Nancy A Collins’ Sonja Blue books with a generous helping of LGBTQ Pride. Ascension, the club Angela chooses the first night we see her hunt, is painted black, but still vibrant with flashing lights, very much reminding me of my time at The Nightingale, a well known haunt in the Gay Village, Birmingham. Herman paints it so well, I can hear the music and feel the warmth of the community and almost smell the sweat of all those dancing bodies. It’s terrific writing. Herman, writing about depression and loneliness, captures the aching loneliness Angela feels, her guilt at biting to stay alive, the need to connect in a real way with someone, just as Chloe, sitting alone in her room at night, is lost and seeking comfort. Even her cat is called Entropy. It’s clear Chloe’s depression is bordering on suicidal ideation, not surprising when we find out about her last partner, but even in the midst of such thoughts, Herman offsets the darkness with humour aimed at poor unfortunate slush pile readers. One word folks; pineapple. Chloe’s incredibly messy apartment is a metaphor for her life, and her Aunt Esther who comes to visit is a breath of fresh air. The thing about these characters though, is that they’re all connected in some way, which is revealed as the book progresses. Chloe is destined to meet Angela. Given she’s taking her post grad in Astrophysics, it could almost mean it was destined in the stars. The hints at world building here, reminded me in part of Kelley Armstrong’s ‘Otherworld’ and there’s much that could be explored. Overall though, this is a romance. It’s not actually a rom com in the traditional sense, because the humour is acerbic and definitely grounded in the tropes of supernatural fiction, but it is most definitely funny. I laughed out loud quite a few times, but also loved the wider story and the romance between Angela and Chloe. A terrific, vibrant, emotional and funny read.