An interesting and varied collection of novellas
One of the most popular role-playing properties in the world gets new life with this trio of horror novellas set in Vampire: The Masquerade’s World of Darkness by three brilliant talents: Genevieve Gornichec, Cassandra Khaw, and Caitlin Starling
The subtle horror and infernal politics of the World of Darkness are shown in a new light in Vampire: The Masquerade: Walk Among Us, a collection of three novellas that show the terror, hunger, and power of the Kindred as you’ve never seen them before.
I’ve been interested in the Vampire: The Masquerade setting for years. However, I’ve never played a game of the pen-and-paper RPG. In fact, despite buying some of the 1990s-early 2000s novels (which I haven’t had a chance to read, yet), I have quite limited experience with the setting. I played and loved the Redemption video game (I really want them to update it for newer platforms!), and also the first Bloodlines game. Aside from that, before 2021, I had no other experience with it. When Walk Among Us was first announced, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I’m happy to report that it is a very good, varied collection.
Unfortunately, for me, Walk Among Us was released first as an audiobook (in June 2020). I prefer my fiction in print/eBook. So, I waited for the prose version. It’s comprised of three novellas, each taking a different approach to the World of Darkness and the Masquerade. It’s an excellent showcase for the potential for storytelling in this world.
In the first novella, Genevieve Gornichec’s “A Sheep Among Wolves”, an outcast college student struggles to find a place for herself in an environment that doesn’t suit her or, apparently, want her. It’s a story about depression, coming-of-age (sort-of), and radicalization. It’s a strange story. It takes a while for the WoD stuff to arise, and there was a pretty good switcheroo at the end. Gornichec’s prose is very good, too. However, the story was a bit of a slog to get through. At a certain point, I couldn’t help but think, “We get it, now tell the story” — wallowing in issues is not a substitute from proper characterization and storytelling. When the story did get going, it was pretty good. It just took a bit too long to do so, for a novella.
Cassandra Khaw’s “Fine Print” offers a glimpse at the horror of vampirism in this setting. In particular, for this clan and genus of vampire. Well written, brutal and gruesome, the author shows readers that there’s always a catch and if something seems to be too good to be true… well, there’s probably something awful going on. The author creates a truly obnoxious tech bro as a protagonist, and the story moves at a good clip with evocative prose and sometimes unsettling descriptions.
The final story, the longest, is Caitlin Starling’s “The Land of Milk and Honey”. It takes a look at an idea that has featured in a few other vampire-based fictions: husbanding, or industrializing the process of acquiring human blood for vampire consumption. It’s in an episode of the third season of Buffy (“The Wish”), and there’s also the blood farm in Blade: Trinity. Starling’s story, however, takes a look at a more pastoral approach — set in Portland, it’s in many ways the more hipster approach to it, too: free-range, ethically sources, ensuring the animals are treated fairly and well, and enjoy a happy life before they’re slaughtered/harvested. It’s an interesting story, populated with a good cast of characters, and also injected with vampire politics.
In the case of each story, I’m sure those who are familiar with the Vampire: The Masquerade mythology and factions will get a little bit more out of the book. However, I don’t think it’s essential to know everything (or even much at all) to follow along and enjoy these stories. Each author includes some relevant information, and allusions to factions and conflicts. All three authors avoid info-dumping, but still manage to do some very good world-building.
A promising first set of new fiction in the setting. If you’d like more V:TM reading material, I’d also highly recommend Tim Seeley’s ongoing comic series — I read it a couple months ago, and thought it was superb. I really hope there are more Vampire: The Masquerade novellas and (hopefully) novels in the works.