At a time when vampires have become their own little entertainment industry, paranormal creators have to work hard to distinguish their work from all of the ripoffs of Twilight, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries already out there. In the 12th installment of her Morganville Vampires series, Black Dawn, Fort Worth author Rachel Caine tries a new twist: She introduces a new enemy to her fictional West Texas college town. The draug are slimy vampire-preying creatures that live hidden in the town’s water sources in the forms of rain, puddles, and tap water. However, despite a creatively rendered and highly original baddy, the novel seems to mimic a description of the draug: formless, shifting, and vague.
Caine has written more than 30 novels since 1990 and has become a national bestselling author both on The New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. Her Morganville series is an international bestseller, and her Weather Warden and Outcast Season series have also garnered major success. But even a novelist as experienced as Caine can’t hit a home run every time.
At the center of Caine’s Morganville is Claire Danvers, a nerdy physics major with a spunky goth best friend, Eve, and a boyfriend, Shane, who is haunted by his dark past. Michael, a guitar-playing vampire, is Shane’s best friend and Eve’s boyfriend. Black Dawn opens with the main four characters knowing the draug have come to Morganville, where vampires have “come out of the coffin,” and tension between bloodsuckers and humans is spiraling out of control.
The four heroes have to go on the offensive to stop the draug, turning to research, scientific experiments, and even a mission into the belly of the beast: the local water treatment plant.
Their research may go deep, but relationships among the characters are shallow and forced. Claire, a usually logical physics major, is either upset and worried or petty and selfish: When boyfriend Shane is attacked by the draug and forced into a dreamlike state, Claire worries that he is dreaming of another girl. Despite Claire having just saved Shane from his sure death, she remains insecure about their relationship. The book is so dependent on past books for character development that, standing alone, Black Dawn falls flat.
The only bright spot is the inventive nature of the ridiculous draug: clear, Jell-O-like beings that climb out of puddles or form from raindrops to take on human form. They absorb and dissolve their prey –– most often the vampires of Morganville –– and can force humans into near-comas. Scenes throughout the novel highlight the fast-paced race to avoid the puddles that could be hiding these vicious killers.
And that is where all originality ends.
Black Dawn is true to its nature as a teen novel with a plotline that the serious reader can probably unravel by the second half of the book. It’s your typical vampire story: Girl loves boy, vampire loves girl, town under attack, turns out girl has more power than anyone knew at the beginning.
Each chapter is written from a different character’s point of view, but they all have the same voice and tone, using similar patois and identical descriptions. This style is normally a great way to define characters easily, but in Black Dawn it doesn’t generate enough details to make the novel work. The bland descriptions don’t help. A room is “big.” Streets are “small.” And “it was raining.”
The story had potential to really play off human emotions with subplots like Shane’s daddy issues and Eve’s mistrust of her vampire boyfriend Michael after he bites her. However, these are underdeveloped and undercut by clichéd writing, not to mention the inside joke about a flamethrower that seem to go on for chapters.
This close-but-no-cigar attempt at an original vampire novel provides an entertaining read and a consistent story that fits into the Morganville series. Beyond that it’s a mediocre addition to Caine’s oeuvre.
Black Dawn by Rachel Caine
New American Library