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Spotlight on: The Priest of Blood by Douglas Clegg

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The Priest of Blood by Douglas Clegg Douglas Clegg, The Priest of Blood (The Vampyricon)

If anyone was going to get me to read a sword-and-sorcery tale about a vampire -- two subgenres that I feel have just about been beaten to death -- it would be Douglas Clegg. Ever since reading his short story collection, The Nightmare Chronicles (must-reading for any horror fan, especially any horror writer), each successive book of his has solidified his place on my list of favorite writers, even through a couple of mild disappointments (more detailed opinions can be found on my Douglas Clegg page).

Like most people, I am much more willing to be experimental with an author who has already proven himself to me, than one with whom I am mostly unfamiliar. I have previously been vocal about my dislike of medieval fantasy, so I was ready for reading The Priest of Blood to be a real test of my will, but I determined to give it the old college try. (Clegg's juggernaut marketing campaign -- involving contest prizes like cups and pens, including one shaped like a syringe filled with "blood" -- had certainly succeeded in guaranteeing that his book was at the front of my mind for several months.)

I need not have worried. Clegg's skill at entertaining with words is such that, before I reached the bottom of page four, I was fully swept up in his tale ("kept secret for more than eight hundred years"), and his terrific use of foreshadowing kept me turning the pages. By the time I got to the puzzle, my favorite part, I was turning pages at top speed.

The Priest of Blood is the story of young Aleric Atheffeld, a falconer of humble birth (Aleric's mother sells her body for food and money to support her children, none of whom share the same father) who -- through a combination of skill, innate talent, and luck (if you can call it that) -- perseveres through a series of trials involving family, love, and revenge to become the chosen one ("Maz-Sherah") of an age-old tribe of nosferatu.

Born a bastard, destined to serve not be served, Aleric is sent from the woman he loves (after a hot love scene beneath statue of Virgin Mary) to fight in the Crusades only to end up imprisoned in an ancient tower, where he has his blood drained ecstatically by the beautiful blonde Pythia. Three nights later, he awakens full of moral questions, sharper vision, and a barely satiable bloodthirst. And that is only the first half of the book.

The Priest of Blood was simply a joy to read. Though full-time childcare responsibilities kept me from ripping through it in a day, I made time for it whenever possible during every spare moment. Clegg takes the "blood-drinker" legend and adds his own surprising twists (like a limited life span) in essence creating a new mythology -- and this is only the beginning! There are at least two more books in the series planned, and I've already made space on my bookshelf next to this one for its successors (The Lady of Serpents is due in September, 2006). (In the meantime, Clegg is also working on an Arthurian trilogy of novels centering around Mordred, another legendary illegitimate, beginning with Mordred, Bastard Son.) Clegg's new foray into dark fantasy is better than I ever expected. Although I've read a good selection of his works prior to this one, I've never come across such lyrical description from him. It's as if The Priest of Blood has allowed his inner poet to shine through unabated.

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