Elaine Bergstrom,
(Ace, 2003)

The Austra family is privileged and somewhat aloof from society. Its members are vampires of a sort, although certainly not cut from the same cloth as the ancient Dracula, the artistic-erotic denizens of Anne Rice's world or the highly politicized, Buick-pressing citizens of Laurel K. Hamilton's. They are tall, long-limbed and beautiful, ageless, strong and nearly invulnerable, but they are also sensitive, artistic and tightly bonded to their kin. They hunt but rarely kill, showing a great deal of compassion for those upon whom they feed.

Elaine Bergstrom returns to her highly developed Austra clan with Nocturne, her first novel in the series in a decade. Since I'd never read her work before, I worried I'd be lost without the details provided by earlier books; not to worry, Nocturne proceeds smoothly, filling in all the backstory new readers might need.

Richard, the youngest of the Austra clan, is caught up in a subtle but unexpected war with another family with old ties to their Romanian homeland. This family has very different beliefs regarding violence -- and very implausible theories regarding the acquisition of power and blood from those of the Austra line.

But while the war has far-reaching consequences, Nocturne is a largely bloodless book (discounting a few climactic battles and the occasional sip here and there). Clashes of violence are sporadic; instead, the book focuses more on family development and the growing romance between Richard and Irena, a promising young opera singer with unexpected family ties of her own. When Irena returns to her native Romania with an opera company, she is brutally forced into events she'd hoped to avoid, forced to make decisions she'd wished to delay.

The novel is long and slow-moving, but never dull. Bergstrom isn't telling an action story here, she's creating fully realized lives for her characters. It's delicately drawn, at times funny, at times sensual, at times poignant. By the end, you'll know Richard and Irena well -- although they'll still have the ability to surprise you. You'll recognize the subtle differences and similarities between Richard and his twin brother, Patrick. You'll know their parents, their close kin and acquaintances (some of whom were featured more prominently in earlier novels).

Her portrayal of characters is very realistic, from the terror of a superstitious peasant to the intricate evolution of an opera tour.

It's taken me too long to meet the Austra family. Now that I have, I certainly hope Bergstrom will provide the next chapter in their extraordinary lineage soon!

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 6 December 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.