I've been on a Regency romance kick of late. Been reading some Heyer, some Austen, been catching the brilliant Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle "Pride and Prejudice" mini-series on telly, that kinda thing. For my next read, I wanted to stay in this era but wanted something with a twist - and that's when The Vampire Viscount by Karen Harbaugh came to mind.
I'm pretty sure I first learned about The Vampire Viscount from Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan. (Beyond Heaving Bosoms is a hilariously fun read with the additional benefit of providing a boisterous trip through romance novel history.) But back to the Viscount - the book was published in 1995, the year my Kid was born, so I reckon I was a bit busy and that's why I missed it back then. PS: the title of Viscount in British nobility is a rank somewhere in the middle of the range from Knight to Duke and is pronounced VEYE-count, in case you were wondering.
Right, so; Nicholas, the Viscount St. Vire, as the titular vampire, has been around a while and he's worried. Vamps who go on, er, vamping for too long go a bit mad. OK, they go crazy insane, a fate Nicholas desires to avoid. He studies various magical arts and comes across a spell which could potentially reverse his unfortunate condition. However, the spell requires a virgin (natch). Luckily, virgins are plentiful in Regency England (I suspect he'd be hard pressed to find one in the 21st century, though they magically do seem to turn up on a regular basis in romance novels). All he has to do is marry one, take her—ahem—maidenhead, and keep her with him for a year to become human again.
As easy as a walk through Hyde Park, right?
Well, the thing is, the maidenhead-taking has to be timed just so and Nicholas has to find his bride quickly. So he wins her in a game of cards (like you do). But he sets out to charm his prize, the fair Leonore, as his bride must willingly give herself to him for the spell to work. So she agrees to marry him and thus settle her alcoholic and abusive father's debt and proceeds to spend their two-month engagement period attempting to resist Nicholas' appeal and failing. She attributes his extreme pallor and refusal to go out during the day to illness and comes to believe he'll die at the end of a year, which torments her as she falls deeper and deeper in love with him.
As time goes by, Nicholas does find that marriage to Leonore is slowly but surely restoring him to his former self, which is le awesome, only a dangerous blast from the past turns up to mar his happiness. Mercia, the she-devil who turned him into a vampire in the first place, arrives in London, and guess what? She wants him back. This forces the Viscount to dance attendance upon her to keep Leonore safe from his sire's deadly clutches, which does not go unnoticed by his wife (or all of London society, either). Can Nicholas keep his love long enough to effect his cure? You're gonna have to read the book to find out, y'all, 'cause I ain't tellin'.
The dark romance of it all: It's hard not to fall in love with Nicholas, as he's charming and attentive, clever and caring, and treats Leonore (and her family) far better than her dastardly father ever did. And Harbaugh turns some delightfully romantic phrases, and ideas, in the book, which only add to the allure of loving the Viscount. (OK, and the sexy bits are le woof!) But Nicholas is essentially using his wife, which was tricky to get past because he's deceiving her. In my study of Frank Langella's Dracula, I support Lucy's choice to throw in her lot with the vampire because she's savvy to what's going on. Granted, Leonore does agree to marry Nicholas, but it's only toward the end of the story that she realizes what he really is and why he was so desperate to have her. This casts a bit of a pall over the tale for me, but not enough to kill the buzz I developed for it. I'm just sayin'.
The Vampire Viscount is relatively light on the vampiness but heavy on the romance and an enjoyable mash-up of the two genres. I'm glad I was able to get my hands on it!