Cruising for Blood

A Review of Tanya Huff’s Blood Price
By Derek Newman-Stille

Tanya Huff’s books never disappoint me. I am always impressed with her ability to work in multiple genres of Speculative Fiction from hard Science Fiction to High Fantasy, to Urban Dark Fantasy and Horror.

Blood Price, the first of Huff’s Blood Books is perhaps one of my favorite books of all time, so it took a long time for me to develop the courage to review it. One of Huff’s protagonists in the series, Vicki Nelson, is a strong female detective character, willing to take risks to get the job done. She doesn’t rely on preternatural strength or dark magic but instead counters these in her opponents with her own gift at detective work. Huff uses this character to undo the notion of ‘female intuition’ that often pervades urban fantasies featuring female protagonists. Instead, Vicki’s intuition often leads her away from the truth, and it is only through solid detective work and a mind that is open to far-fetched possibilities that she is able to uncover the root of crimes.

Vicki is also a character who is going blind due to retinitis pigmentosa and has already lost much of her night vision. Unlike the disabled characters in many novels, this does not create a sense of vulnerability in the representation of Vicki. If anything, Vicki feels the need to take greater risks and be stronger and more self-reliant than all of those around her to compensate for her own issues with her reduced vision. Vicki is a figure at the intersection between her identity as a former female police officer (who therefore has to prove that she is more ‘ballsy’ than the male cops around her), and her new identity as a disabled person (which she frequently sees as a personal vulnerability that she needs to compensate for by being confrontational with the forces of darkness around her).

Huff’s other protagonist, Henry Fitzroy, is the vampire bastard (i.e. illegitimate) son of Henry VIII. He has become a romance author in the series because of the ability for romance authors to pass as eccentric and therefore explain his late-night hours, his unpredictable personality, and the frequent male and female visitors to his apartment (all for research, of course). Henry shows a sexual interest in both men and women, and, unlike the portrayal of many bisexual characters, his sexuality is not formative to his identity, it is merely another part of his character along with his authorship, his vampirism, and his advanced years (none of which show on his frozen-in-time face). He is arrogant, self-assured, but also incredibly likeable and human, and willing to accept diversity.

My favorite Henry scene involves him waiting for unspeakable evil in the park and getting distracted when he is cruised by a man who assumes that he waiting for something else in the dark. This scene aptly captures Huff’s sense of humour and the need for interjections of joy in the depths of the darkness of her plot.

This first of the Blood Books series primarily focuses on misunderstandings and misinterpretation of the facts. Characters are led to make assumptions about the nature of crimes that have been occurring in Toronto and have to face both their own limited ideas about the nature of the world, while similarly battling a dark force that relies on this misunderstanding and confusion to achieve its goals. It is only through challenging assumptions and developing a more complex and diverse understanding of the world that Vicki is able to approach an incomprehensible darkness that is spreading through the city.

Huff’s Blood Books were made into the Lifetime series BloodTies, and the television drama was not able to capture the richness of Huff’s characters or the depth of her storylines. Unlike the TV series, which often perpetuated rather than deconstructed stereotypes, Huff’s characters defy stereotypical or limited portrayals. The Lifetime series actually got rid of my favorite character, the homeless, gay friend of Vicki and later lover of Henry, Tony. Tony’s potency as a character was that he was able to show the reality of queer existence for many men – he was forced to be homeless (there is an inference that this may be due to homophobia he experienced), had to engage in risky activities due to his homelessness, but is ultimately a good person who wants to have a long term, positive relationship and get off the streets.  Huff illustrates that understanding and giving someone a chance can be formative in their identity and provide a chance for them to contribute to the world around them.

My only desire for a change with this book series… is that I wish I had purchased the books now with their new, impressive covers instead of years ago when they had the terrible “TV tie in” covers. Huff’s characters and narrative style create a direct line to my heart…

To explore more about Tanya Huff, visit her site at .

Books You Can Really Sink Your Teeth Into: A Reading List for Vampire Week

By Derek Newman-Stille

These are a few of my favorite Canadian vampire stories (note that I say ‘a few’, I want to save several for Vampire Week next year). Some of these stories challenge the genre, pushing it into new areas, and some represent those classic vampire ideas for a Canadian audience. There is something about the Canadian vampire that differs from others, and something about the modern vampire that appeals to Canadians: it’s ambiguity, its ability to raise questions without providing answers, its ability to transcend cultural divides and express multiculturalism in one body, its ability to represent the repressed, and its ability to embody the fringe, the outsider, the abject.

Here are a few Canadian vampire stories that are chilling even in the Canadian summer. This is only a short list – there is a lot more out there lurking in the dark.

Nancy Baker’s A Terrible Beauty

Plays with the image of entrapment and seductive beauty. This novel brings starving artist and starving vampire together in the cold of the North, forcing them to confront themselves and the self-perceptions and delusions that have guided their lives.

Nancy Baker’s The Night Inside

Delves into the monstrous appetites not of the vampire, but of the human beings who exploit them. What happens when a research student, driven by schedules, control, and predictability suddenly is cast into the ultimate unpredictable role? Put into a cage next to a vampire at a research company, Ardeth must expand her understanding of the human experience, question her own judgment and change everything about herself.  This book illustrates the dangers involved in the mixing of science and the supernatural and the exploration of the cold rationalism of science encountering the cold body of the vampire.

Tanya Huff’s Blood Books Series

Positions the vampire as a figure of ambiguous sexuality, willing to engage in homosexual and heterosexual relationships. Huff’s vampire is the illegitimate son of Henry VIII, having to explain his odd behaviors by constructing an identity as a romance writer (to explain his eccentricities and unusual hours). He and detective Vicki Nelson, a detective who is going blind due to retinitis pigmentosa find a balance for themselves on the fringe and Huff shows that by touching the abject, the ignored, one can see a whole world of reality around oneself that is often unseen.

Drew Hayden Taylor’s The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel

Challenges the all too dominant image of the white, aristocratic vampire by creating a native vampire, dispossessed and removed from his land by colonial invaders. He is robbed of his identity with his culture, and his humanity, paralleling the experience of many indigenous people who were torn from their homes and forced into residential schools.

Lynsay Sands’ A Quick Bite

Looks at Toronto as the perfect environment for vampires with its longer winter nights and prevalence of covered walkways. Her vampires are a holdover of ancient Atlantean society: an nano-technological experiment in longevity that has resulted in a blood lust as a cost for immortality. It is a fusion of dark fantasy and science fiction. But, what happens when a vampire has a phobia about seeing blood?

Short Stories

Kelley Armstrong’s Learning Curve In Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead

Zoe is being stalked, and she is tired of it. She knows she is going to have to fight her stalker, but she doesn’t like releasing her dark side. But, what is a vampire to do when confronted with an angry teen who wants to be a Vampire Slayer? Armstrong explores the Buffy phenomenon from the vampire’s perspective, quipping while dodging blows like the best Buffy sidekick.

Kelley Armstrong’s Twilight In Many Bloody Returns

Despite the title similarity, there is nothing in common between Armstrong’s vampire Cassandra and any of the sparkle-covered vampires of that OTHER twilight story. Cassandra is an aging vampire having to face the notion that in order to stay alive for another year, she is going to have to sacrifice the life of another human being. Birthday for this vampire is deathday for a human being and Cassandra has to face her own conscience as she decides whether another year of her own life is worth a human life.

Nancy Kilpatrick’s The Vechi Barbat In By Blood We Live

The vampire in this story is only revealed to the reader through the words of a mental patient. This story explores the battle between tradition and modernity, age and youth, and myth versus the medical profession.


Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick

Evolve Cover Courtesy of Nancy Kilpatrick

Explores the altering form of the vampire in Canadian literature. This volume is an all-Canadian set of vampire stories and gives a great introduction to the nature of the Canadian vampire. It explores a diverse range of vampires, diverse mythologies, natures, and relationships with the vampire – it stretches the nature of the vampire.

Evolve II: Vampire Stories of the Future Undead Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick

Is a precognizant look at the future of the vampire and the way the vampire is developing in Canadian literature. Where does the vampire go from here? Kilpatrick and the authors in this volume look at the changing nature of society and how that is reflected in the vampire – what are the trends for the future of Canadian society and how is this reflected in the vampire as a representation of Canadian fears and speculations?

Nancy Kilpatrick

Of course, in preparation for my Interview with Nancy Kilpatrick later in Vampire Week, I strongly recommend reading any of her fiction. She has also written some brilliant essays on the Canadian vampire as introductions to the volumes The Vampire Stories of Nancy Kilpatrick, Evolve, and Evolve II