There’s little room for surprise in the clockwork art that is genre fiction. What is expected of the formula is, after all, the expected. But fiction, good fiction, needs the element of surprise, some bit of plot or character or device that isn’t as expected. It is in the unanticipated, the unforeseen, the unpredicted that talent shines brightest and readers are given something memorable. Debut author Colleen Gleason has neatly sidestepped the issue of triteness with The Rest Falls Away, by stretching and straddling genre boundaries. The result is a story that isn’t strictly a romance or strictly a paranormal or strictly a Regency. It’s a romance without a central love story, a paranormal that never looses sight of the fact that vampires are monsters, and a Regency whose heroine has something besides the ton on her mind. All that makes for a read that surprises.
The Rest Falls Away centers on a young woman, Victoria Grantworth, whose story begins with echoes of another universe and another heroine. Victoria, just like Buffy Summers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has been chosen as a Venator, called to fulfill a vampire killing legacy. Where Buffy juggled slaying with high school (the obvious metaphor being high school is a horror filled with monsters), Victoria hunts vampires while also husband hunting among the ton (metaphor open to interpretation). Buffy and Victoria embark with the same setup, but the immediate allusion to Buffy quickly falls away as Gleason sets up a universe, conflict, and story arc that would indicate this book is the opening chapter of a several-books-long larger story.
The world building and unfolding are measured; not slow, but there is the constant sense of something larger at play. It is as if the first book in the Gardella Vampire Chronicles sole purpose is to establish instead of being a self contained story. This makes for a read the reader must decide early on to stay with, as little is laid bare (or is explosive enough to seize attention), in the opening pages. What eventfully comes into play amidst the introduction of characters, plot lines, and morsels of backstory is that fledging Venator Victoria must keep the Book of Antwartha (an ancient text containing unspeakable evil) from the most powerful of vampires: Lilith. This task is in addition to staking the rank-and-file, learning a new way of life, and not giving up on her old one. Victoria is up for all those challenges. She is something unto herself: a young woman who frets over dresses, dances lightly, and falls in love easily, all while being ruthlessly practical enough to hide her vampire-killing stakes in an up-do.
It’s the falling in love aspect, the most expected of turns in romance, where Gleason throws the clockwork frame away. In the typical Regency, Victoria’s hero would emerge from the ton; in a typical paranormal her hero would emerge from, well, a coffin. Gleason, however, chooses instead to force elasticity into the romance leaning aspects of The Rest Falls Away. A clear hero does not emerge in this chapter of Victoria’s story. There are three men in her life, all possible candidates for hero: Phillip, a Marquee and member of the ton; Sebastian, a character of some mystery, whose allegiances are not quite clear; and the emotionally damaged yet rich (depth-wise) Max, a fellow soldier in the war on vamps. In this early chapter of Victoria’s story, Phillip emerges as the front runner for her affections, but it’s clear that Phillip is a symbol of Victoria’s non-Venator past, something that cannot be held onto (though in a deliciously flawed and selfish move, Victoria attempts to have Phillip in her life only to face the most dire of consequences for those actions). Sebastian is, again because this is so early in the tale, easy to root for as he is the most sexually forward of the three and because there is so much yet to uncover regarding him. Is he a good guy or bad guy? Time and books to follow with tell (though it would seem that if Phillip is the aristocracy, and Max is a Venator, the options for Sebastian’s character are clear). In the long run our money is on the easily ired Max to stand happily with Victoria at the series’ conclusion.
What is absolutely certain is that Victoria’s story will need to be read until that conclusion (whenever that might come). Knowing what happens to her and the universe she inhabits becomes imperative in The Rest Falls Away despite a somewhat distant narrative style. Gleason relies heavily on dialog and action largely eschewing the internal dialog that is the hallmark of most fiction and the result is an experience more like watching TV than reading a book. It’s a different and surprisingly successfully style.
Hopefully the genre bending framework and surprises that Gleason lays as groundwork here in The Rest Falls Away will continue on throughout the series. The series next installment can’t hit shelves soon enough.
You can visit Colleen here and purchase this book here and here.