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Late Bite by John Masui (book review and recommendation)

Today I will talk about Late Bite, a novel by John Masui.  I have read this novel in two sittings. I  must say I took to Late Bite right from the start. In my first reading I got to the middle of the book and ever since I was anxious to finish it. I would have read it on one sitting if I could have had spared the time. Today I had the afternoon off, so I decided to use it to finish reading it. My reading experience was an absolutely positive one. It is certainly a very exciting and though provoking reading, one that kept getting better with every page, right up to the very satisfying and dramatic end. Late Bite is a very interesting and original take on the vampire genre, albeit this is not the first novel where I came across an attempt to scientifically explain the origin of vampire. George R.R. Martin in his Fevre Dream tried to do the same, by portraying the vampires as a separate species. This novel goes a step further and builds upon recent scientific studies about Homo Sapiens (ones that I happened to read myself, so being up to date on this subject, that part was profoundly interesting to me), ones that prove that Homo Sapiens didn’t exist on its own to start with.  It is highly likely that Homo Sapiens has destroyed other human species of that time (that have possibly been just as intelligent). Maybe this novel will get you to read those studies yourselves, as the appearance of Dragul the vampire in the novel seemed to have had that effect on general public. They suddenly all wanted to know more about the origins of Homo Sapiens!

“I don't have expensive tastes – just bloody ones.– Vampire Dragul Mangorian” ― John MatsuiLate Bite

Dragul, the main vampire character in Late Bite, is claiming that he is in fact, human, just evolved a bit differently. In a way Chimpanzees and Gorillas are both members of the Ape family, so are we Homo Sapiens and Homo Sanguins (i.e vampires) just different members of the human family. Basically, vampires aren’t the same species as humans but we’re closely related. Late Bite really makes the most out of the vampire theme. There is literary potential in vampirism that many miss, but the author seizes it to his advantage, the potential of exploring the theme of humanity. One of the benefits of the vampire theme is that it leaves space for that question: “What does it means to be human?” There are some interesting dialogues in Late Bite that reminded me of those present in Asimov’s novels.  Exploring what it means human is something that intellectual SF often does. Late Bite manages not only to paint a credible modern setting, but to capture the dynamics of a modern world when encountered with a new species. Moreover, the humour and the satire in this novel were very much to my liking.  It seemed to me that the author purposely played with some genre stereotypes and those parts were very amusing. In its subtle satire, Late Bite even touches lightly on some social issues in the present world.

I was a bit surprised with the choice of time line in Late Bite, but it turned very much to be the novel's advantage.  Considering that much of the plot in this novel centuries around the court trial of a vampire Dragul, it seemed logical that that it where it should start. However, the narrative starts after the trial in question has already taken place. The novel opens with a lawyer, who having successfully cleared his vampire client of all charges, is now living the ‘high life’, as being an agent to a celebrity vampire proves to be quite a lucrative job. The novel is mostly told from the point of the view of this lawyer. The trial itself, is in fact, only a long digression. Already knowing how it will end, you would think that would make things less interesting, but you would be wrong in assuming so. The trial itself is masterfully written and filled of suspense. I simply couldn’t wait what will happen next! Nevertheless, as entertaining as it is, the trial is just a part of story. Turns out there is a new treat to our favourite vampire Dragul Mangolian. What will happen next? I won’t tell you that and I will do my best to avoid spoilers, but I must say that the ending is brilliant. Take my word for it, you won't see it coming!

What kind of novel is this?  Late Bite is a page turner, but it is also a novel that will make you think. I’m not sure how to define this novel in terms of a genre.  Thriller with mystery and horror elements? An action/ adventure packed crime novel? Or should we read it as a psychological and paranormal character study? Plenty (perhaps too many) words come to mind: crime, mystery, vampire, horror, fantasy… but why do we need definitions at all? Perhaps it is enough to say that this novel has a bit of everything. Frankly, that is what IMO makes it so great.  In fact, what fascinates me the most about this novel is that it works so well on so many levels. It quite successfully blends multiple genres. Late Bite has everything going for it. The writing is great, the humour is smart, the story is action packed plot and on top of that, there is a wonderful set of characters you can’t help but relate to. In other words, reading it feels a win-win situation!

*** John has sent me a free copy of this book but it hasn't influenced my review in any way. This was my first novel by this author. Here is a link to his site, if you're interested in knowing more about this writer.

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