Thursday 22 January 2015

Book Review: Sarah Channing Wright – 'The Angels Of Islington'

'The Angels Of Islington'

Vampire fiction is perhaps the one area of literature where I tread most carefully. Anything to do with any blend in particular of teenagers (with their inane growing pains) and vampires I avoid like the plague. Luckily I'm not the only one, for as authoress Sarah Channing Right declares on the back cover of her first novel 'The Angels Of Islington', “This is not a Sparkly Vampire Story”. In fact Wright's novel thankfully owes more to Anne Rice's 'Queen Of the Damned' and Poppy Z. Brite's early tales of vampires integrating into underground subcultures such as 'Lost Souls'.

In fact it is with Poppy Z Brite that the closest stylistic comparisons can be drawn. Wright eschews the flouncy lexicon of classic vampire fiction (and modern fiction attempting to live up to those classics) in favour of a punchier and more immediate style that is instantly accessible to any reader. There is an honesty to the story and a sense of reality throughout the prose, perhaps due to Wright's admission in the Introduction that it is somewhat semi-biographical of her time living in London in the 90s. But this is also because this novel makes good use of real geography (as well as the character types in habiting them) that are still around today. The book is a hit-list of places for any self-respecting contemporary goth to visit while in London. The Electric Ballroom, Slimelight, The Devonshire Arms etc. all feature just as prominently as her main characters.

For anyone who has lived in London, or visited these places there is an instant familiarity to the story, and the goings on that add a legitimacy to it despite the supernatural bloodsuckers and sudden eruptions of graphic brutality. It's a nostalgic and witty look at a subculture through its own eyes set against a horror backdrop.

The pace of the prose is nice, with a lot of the story featuring large chunks of relative normal behaviour and actions, which are suddenly punctured by bloodshed. The novel could be compared to Neil Gaiman's 'Neverwhere' in some respects, with the oblivious humans coexisting with the dark beings. It's a matter-of-fact world where ideologies of good an evil don't play a role but rather the main characters try to survive a chaotic world and a mad adversary. There isn't really any shaking-up of vampire lore to be found here. These are your typical vampires who can be killed in the usual Hammer Horror fashion, and that's fine... at least they don't bloody sparkle!

There are a few sticking points to contend with though; such as the rather cheesy pseudonyms many of the characters adopt such as “Onyx”, “Spider”, “The Count”, and “Storm”, as well as the fact that everyone seems to get a long back story despite the fact that a lot of characters are quite interchangeable. In terms of the language, it can be very clichéd. This is admittedly hard to avoid when you're working with something as clichéd as goth culture and vampire fiction, however due to the fact the Wright approaches the story with wit and a mischievous sense of dark humour does however make it all the more endearing.

This book may have limited appeal outside goth circles and fans of modern vampire fiction. But if you fall in to either of these camps it is worth a read. Even if just to go on a bit of a nostalgia trip back to the 1990s. It's not a masterpiece by any stretch, but it is a fun and fairly camp read that will see you through a long journey with ease. 

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