There is much that is playful in this beguiling tale, including speaking vampire cats, and a wealth of snappy dialogue. There are also scenes of powerful allure, and those of heartbreaking poignancy.
What better vehicle for exploring the many pains of love than a full-length vampire novel?
It doesn’t take the reader long to be rooting for leather-clad, biker Ulric, born in the 14th century, and struggling with the loneliness of immortality ever since (Califia’s vampires being cursed with finding the company of their own kind unbearable).
Through the centuries, Ulric wanders lost and largely loveless, his suffering sweetly punctuated by short periods of mortal companionship: Alain, who becomes an early victim of AIDS, and, now Lilith, a small-town librarian ripe for exploring her passion for her new lover.
Califia’s sex is heavily influenced by BDSM elements, presented in glorious techni-colour, and with authenticity (having been inspired by Califia’s own experience of the San Francisco scene). Califia’s sex is not only lava-hot but innovative. Combined with a writing style that embraces the brutally raw and the gently lyrical, this is a recipe for an erotic masterpiece. Califia knows his craft.
Above even his skillful manipulation of language is Califia’s creation of compelling, multi-layered characters. Ulric is both dominant and submissive to his new love, tender and masterful. Their relationship is one of balance, presented as an ideal. Lilith is, of necessity, a less dramatic persona, but carries her own quiet authority and we have a sense of her agency in her own fate. She is the giver and receiver of pleasure, Ulric respecting (almost worshipping) her female sexual power on equal footing with demonstrations of masculine erotic strength.
The plot revolves around an ancient feud, initiated by Ulric’s half-sister, the fearsome, obsessive, ruthless Adulfa. Statuesque, and beautiful in all senses unconventional, she pursues vengeance with a single-mindedness that, in the hands of a less talented author, might result in a stereotype of wickedness: a two-dimensional villainess. However, in blaming Ulric for having sentenced her to vampiric abomination six centuries earlier, we see not only her capacity to inflict pain on others, but the pain she carries within herself.
On discovering Ulric’s mortal companion, her plans unfold with steady inevitability, set against a catalogue of sadistic scenes in which we, as readers, are left in no doubt that Adulfa’s revenge will surpass anything we can imagine.
Adulfa’s brand of perverted domination is explored at length, leaving us intentionally disturbed and disrupted. Her behaviour, destructive as it is, to others and herself, is the perfect foil to the mutual love we witness between Ulric and Lilith. Where their sex scenes revolve around pleasure and emotional fulfillment, Adulfa’s couplings are spiced liberally with excruciating humiliation and torture.
The story, in its very concept, is fantastical, and yet Califia makes it so easy to suspend our disbelief. We shiver with delicious fear at the sinister path of Adulfa as readily as we shiver with satisfaction at the sex scenes involving Ulric, Lilith and their lovers.
The closing pages of the story are unexpected, and leave the path open to a sequel (as yet unwritten).
Would I like more of Adulfa, Ulric, and Lilith? Oh yes…
Thoughts from the author, and other male writers of erotic fiction in this article: The Erotic Vein.