Review of SERPENTINE by Thomas F. Monteleone
Borderlands Press, November 2007
A snake appearing from a sealed altar and the desecration of a long-dead priest's bones starts writer Matthew Cavendish off in search of a mystery. He's tracked a lot of supposedly mythical beings and events before, but this time the evidence points at something stranger, something more dangerous, than he's ever faced--a lamia--a snake/woman shapeshifter who lives as a vampire, sucking not blood but creative energy through the sex act. And if Matthew doesn't act, she'll resume her destruction of the best in human genius.
Sophia Rousseau is free for the first time in a hundred years and heads to New York, center of culture and civilization. There, she links up with an agent who can propell her to the top ranks of modeling and acting--and begins her search for the genius that sustains her even as she drains the men who hold it. At the back of her mind, though, she senses danger. Someone is hunting her. Of course, in the world of the lamia, the hunted can quickly become hunter.
In a series of flashbacks, we learn of Sophia's earlier life, before she was trapped beneath the church. She's both inspired and eventually killed some of the world's great geniuses, Mozart, Van Gogh, the Admirable James Crichton, and others. She doesn't think of herself as evil, simply as a hunter for whom mere humans are prey.
Author Thomas F. Monteleone turns Sophia into an interesting and occasionally sympathtic character. She may be killing her victims, but she provides them with a great deal of pleasure during the process and, at least for Van Gogh and Mozart, inspires them to create some of their most compelling works. The source of her power, a sexual attraction so powerful as to be hypnotic, is also the source of her greatest danger when she confronts a man who cannot be controlled through sex.
For me, the other characters, especially the characters in the present-day world, lack the same kind of interest. We never really feel that Matthew has much stake in the outcome. If he defeats Sophia, he'll have a nice chapter for his next book. If he goes home and forgets about her, he won't. Playwright Richard Hammaker is disturbed by his friend's death, but again, I didn't get any sense of passion about his desire to hunt Sophia down. Instead, he's more into feeling sorry for himself for the accident that left him incapable of taking advantage of Sophia's attraction. As for Sophia's victim, Sandler, Sophia gave him more pleasure than he'd ever found before--and he was a married man--it's hard to be too sympathetic.
I enjoyed Monteleone's version of the lamia, the sexual vampire, the notion of consuming the creative energy of genius. I would have liked SERPENTINE a lot more, though, if Monteleone had involved and invested me in the characters, had given me a stake in whether Matthew and Richard succeeded in their quest. As it was, though, what Monteleone probably intended as an intriguing and scary ending simply fell flat for me. Monteleone's writing and story-telling is strong enough that I kept reading, interested in what happened next. I do wish he'd gone a step further, though, and made me care.
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