HelenKay: Martin Kowalski lives in a world where vampires outnumber humans. The undead are frozen in time. Simple everyday items like cereal are sold on Ebay as nostalgic treasures. Canned human food now substitutes for dog food. Toilets are used as planters. Humans hide. A good time to be a vampire. Not so great to be anything else. Of course, there really is nothing else. That’s part of the problem.
Marty became a vampire in WWII. Near death on the battlefield, a female vampire turned him then left him behind. Martin began his undead life killing bad guys – Nazis, criminals and others he felt were in need of death. Soon, Martin and a few others changed their ways and began to kill as a benevolent gesture…with the help of the Pope and the Catholic Church.
That’s historical Marty. Present day Marty is bored. When his idea of ending his life doesn’t work, he tries something new. He stumbles across a little girl – Isuzu Trooper Cassidy. Her mother has been killed by vampires and Marty takes her in, but not until after she tries to kill him. He intends to keep her around for a little bit then kill her, but…
Thus starts the "should I kill her or let her live" battle in his soulless body.
The book follows Isuzu’s formative years as Marty morphs from predator to father. The story stays in first person and Marty’s charming and witty voice as he describes raising Isuzu and easing her transition from little girl to young woman. From coloring to her first period. From bulimia to a boyfriend. The journey is poignant. It is at times hysterical and always enjoyable.
Vamped falls into the category of Lad Lit. It follows the story of one guy – a very funny guy’s guy. Marty is flawed and imperfect, stuck in a rut and desperate to get out. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to go now that vampires rule the world. Isuzu, a human kid with all of those annoying human kid habits, sends Marty’s stable and mundane world spinning.
There is a romance here, but it is a secondary theme and doesn’t appear until page 250. The point isn’t romance, which is good because that is the weakest and least developed part of the book. The plot centers on Marty, Isuzu and the growth of their relationship. The other characters are few and all serve a purpose in driving the story forward and revealing something in this new world Sosnowski has created. The bond that forms, and how this mismatched pair makes this strange pseudo-family situation work, drives the book. Marty’s growth (despite lack of blood and an inability to actually age) follows through the book as Isuzu grows older.
The writing is snappy and clean. The dialog zips along and the plot never drags. Vamped flips back and forth between backstory and real time without ever losing the reader. The shifts from vampire world to human world are clever and recall many old-time products, such as Count Chocula cereal, in a way that almost guarantees a smile.
Vamped does not rely on recycled vampire lore. The general world is familiar, but Sosnowski makes it his own. The result is a an endearing tale in a vampire world that feels fresh and different from what has gone before.
Wendy: Vamped bites into the canon of vampire fiction with sharp fangs, leaving its mark where so many others have failed to break the skin. Unlike authors who play dress-up with deathly pallor, winged capes and rubber teeth, David Sosnowski inhabits the mythology and adds to it in credible fashion.
Marty Kowalski is bored. Who wouldn’t be? He’s lived more than a hundred years and all but twenty-one of them have been as a vampire. There’s no one left on earth to run a stake through his heart, cut off his head, or force him into sunlight. The tables have turned. No longer are vampires awash in a sea of people, thrilling to the hunt, the chase, the kill. Now, all left on earth are vampires; no one has a pulse, not the clergy, not exotic entertainers, not Marty’s neighbors, not Marty’s co-workers. And, Marty is responsible for it all; Marty has given birth to a world of vampires.
Ready to end it all, Marty challenges the world to throw him a life line. He wants a reason to exist for another night, something that will capture and hold his interest. Something new. The world takes him up on the offer and delivers to Marty a daughter. Isuzu Trooper Cassidy escaped from the fabled people farms—where children are raised, then sold to vampires well-healed enough to supplement their synthetic blood diet with the real stuff—is newly motherless and a treat too tempting to pass up.
At first blush, well, if vampires could blush, a vampire in a rut who stumbles upon a five year old blonde whose mother is dead sounds uncomfortably familiar. Too easily the setup evokes Anne Rice’s vampire family of Louis, Lestat, and Claudia. But, Marty is no Lestat and Isuzu is no Claudia. Marty keeps Isuzu intent on feeding from her; he’s decidedly against transforming her. “Screamers” as they are known in the vampire world Marty helped create, are vampires who were vamped as children and therefore doomed to eternity in bodies that remain doughy and childlike though their minds continue to age. No, Marty wants Isuzu for a meal and nothing more, until she does what only a living child in Marty’s life could do: she reminds him what it’s like to be human.
So, the vampire Marty Kowalski, who’s fathered enough vampires to take over the world, becomes the surrogate father of one growing child. Through Marty’s dry and witty perspective, Sosnowski tackles the parent child relationship with all its normal humanness (must keep the kid fed) to problems that are unique to raising a girl in a world of the undead (must keep the neighbors from feeding on the kid). Isuzu ages from five to eighteen under Marty parentage and Sosnowski keeps Isuzu real and believable at every age in between.
Sosnowski imagines his all-vampire world in its totality with no opportunity for incisive, if humorous, commentary missed. From undead strip clubs, to no sun mid-winter Alaskan vacations (a beautifully simple detail, so obvious it’s a wonder the thousand or so vampire novels prior to Vamped didn’t make use of it), to nostalgia driven eBay sales, to toilets transformed into planters, Sosnowski draws Marty’s world with vivid detail.
Both Marty and Vamped delight. Sosnowski creates a believable all vampire world with heart and a story that’s human to the core.
Wendy’s Response to HelenKay: Fiction by men often manages to escape the cubby-holing fiction by women is reduced to. When I first heard of Lad Lit—supposedly the male version of Chick Lit—my initial thought was: like, they need the shelf space. Now, after reading Vamped, I understand the similarities between the male protagonist, Marty, and the female protagonists that populate Chick Lit. The comparisons are easy to make and the take-off niche name becomes a given. What is dissimilar, at least with this offering, between the two is the lack of sentimentality. That is not to say that Marty or his story are without feeling, only that, well, he isn’t a chick. Nor is he what we are used to here at PBR: a male character written by a woman. How aware were you that you were reading about a guy written by a guy? Or, did it enter into your experience at all?
HelenKay’s Response to Wendy: Where I felt the lack of a female voice was in the romance portion of the book. In my view, there really wasn’t much of a romance. The romance had more to do with a stage of Marty and Isuzu’s relationship than actual romance. But, in the end, that didn’t matter much because this story belongs to Marty. It all worked for me. The dialog rang true and the "guy stuff" felt real. Just like in a chick lit where the gal is key, here Marty is the center. He bursts onto the pages. His voice is strong and clear. Many female authors write realistic male characters, but it was refreshing to read a male voice from a male persepective. Really, if this is what Lad Lit is about, I’m ready to try more.
HelenKay’s Final Thoughts: A funny and fresh take on a vampire tale. Not a romance, but a story full of warmth and humor. If you think you want a romance, pick this one up instead and give it a try. Recommended.
Wendy’s Final Thoughts: Pull your hair aside and tip you head. Vamped has bite.