19 September 2018

Review: Bernice Summerfield: The Vampire Curse by Mags L. Halliday, Kelly Hale and Philip Purser-Hallard

Recently, I've been catching up on my Bernice Summerfield audio dramas over at Unreality SF; as aficionados will know, those are part of a multi-media narrative that also incorporates prose stories, and I'll be reviewing the prose installments here over the next few weeks.

Hardcover, 218 pages
Published 2008
Acquired June 2013
Read August 2018
Bernice Summerfield XII: The Vampire Curse
by Mags L. Halliday, Kelly Hale and Philip Purser-Hallard

The Vampire Curse covers three different encounters with vampires across Bernice Summerfield's lifetime. (She also battle vampires in the New Adventures in Blood Harvest, which would go between the first and second stories in this volume.) The first, Mags Halliday's "The Badblood Diaries," is set during her postgraduate years, before she met the Doctor. She goes on an archaeological expedition which is (of course) attacked by vampires. The whole story is told in the form of a column she's publishing about her adventures, which somewhat strained my credulity, as she's very open about some things I'm not entirely convinced one would reveal to a broad audience. However, Halliday is great at capturing Benny's voice; we've heard a lot of it thanks to the use of her diary throughout her history, and I could easily imagine Lisa Bowerman reading the lines. It's filled with little observations of people that sketch in character very quickly and very well, and also feel very Young Benny. The plot, on the other hand, was a bit too straightforward. I enjoyed the experience of reading it, but when it finished I was surprised that was all that had happened.

The second, "Possum Kingdom" by Kelly Hale, actually takes place during Benny's travels with the seventh Doctor, and he even puts in a brief (unnamed, of course) appearance on pp. 98-99. (I'd guess it goes somewhere between Set Piece and Original Sin.) Benny joins a group of time-traveling tourists in order to help track down an ancient, vampiric evil. I didn't entirely understand what was going on, as the story isn't told in order, but I enjoyed Hale's descriptions of Texas. The best part of the story, though, is the time tourism agency; the tour is about vampires, and so there are lots of good jokes about this, like the guy they meet outside Dracula's castle who matter-of-factly claims his uncle came back as a vampire to help with the kids, and the visit to the Edward and Bella Reenactment Society in Forks, Washington. I think it's the most complicated story in the volume, but also the shortest.

The last story, Philip Purser-Hallard's "Predating the Predators," is the best one. Set during series 9 of the audio dramas (probably between The Adventure of the Diogenes Damsel and The Diet of Worms), the story is about an academic conference on vampires where the keynote speaker is a vampire. It's told as a collection of documents (shades of Dracula, there), mostly excerpts from the diary of a Jesuit priest and letters from a physics graduate student to his sister. It's funny and clever, as Purser-Hallard explores the sfnal implications of vampires on other planets to good effect. Benny's role isn't terribly huge, but it is significant, and also clever and funny. I really enjoyed reading it.

The whole collection is worth reading even if it is a little uneven. This doesn't reach the heights of some previous Bernice Summerfield three-in-one books like Nobody's Children or Old Friends, but it still shows off the strengths of the format. It's a shame that this would be its last use; from here on out, all the Benny books will be short-story anthologies or novels, nothing in between.

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