When I first encountered this particular book on the shelves of an English bookstore I was instantly attracted by its main title and even more by the subtitle: The Secret History of Lord Byron. Of course this is a pretty well known myth which has been made famous and proliferated by Polidori's Vampyre and relates Lord Byron with vampirism. And that is because Polidori's Vampyre based on a fragment of novel that Lord Byron himself attempted to write maintains a lot of characteristics with the Byronic Hero, which is not the real Byron but the caricature that has been created after his name. So attracted by this background and a lover of Lord Byron, I bought the book without any hesitation. I wanted to see how the writer managed to blend history with fantasy and to check if such an attempt was really possible and successful.
I have to admit that while I was reading the book I had a strange feeling that I couldn't help. I was refusing to connect the fictional Byron with the real Byron which was rather difficult since the novel had him as a protagonist. I refused to make the connection because I firmly believe that Holland's fantasy had nothing to do with the poet himself. Just taking a lot of biographical elements of a person's life and blending them with reality is like abusing in a way his true life, his true memory. And this is a thing in question, at least in my point of view. Why for example didn't the author choose to write about a completely fictional vampyre and why did he choose Lord Byron as the medium of his story? Was such a choice rather pure on its intention or was it a "catchy" idea? These thoughts preoccupied all the time, from the first till the last page of reading the book.
But let's discuss the more technical details. As far as the the plot is concerned I found a lot of flaws in it. There were many elements that didn't seem to fit, many things were kept unsaid and unexplained and I was left with a rather chaotic feeling. The ending itself was rather abrupt and very superficial. Although the writer tried through the novel to justify and explain the protagonist's choices and way of life, it left me with a vague feeling in the end. Nothing made sense. There was a gothic atmosphere but it didn't manage to take me with it.
Another thing that disappointed me in this particular novel was the thing that it had nothing to offer to the gothic genre in particular. It wasn't worthy of the pre-existent gothic novels and it wasn't either worthy of the present gothic needs. What I mean is that the Vampyres of Holland had similar characteristics to the main characters of the other gothic novels like Stoker's Dracula and Anne Rice's Lestat and it didn't make any new suggestions on what a vampire is or could be. On this respect, it was a rather boring reading. I have read many gothic-vampire fiction and what I really want each time is an author who will make some interesting suggestions and he will not repeat the same old stories.
Lastly, I have to say that the only thing that made me read the book till the end was that I wanted to see how the author mixed Lord Byron's biography and work with the figments of his imagination. I wouldn't say that he was successful in this part as well. When you decide to write such a novel and to talk fictionally about personalities strong and elegant like Lord Byron's you have too be at least worthy of their powerfullness. And this is a high-fetched challenge. Either you succeed or you fail. Your work cannot be mediocre. And I think that Tom Holland failed for all the above reasons. And that is a pity because we need good contemporary gothic literature.
Yes, it is a rather interesting story for those who do not have high expectations and want to read something with a quick plot but I wouldn't suggest it to a gothic lover or scholar who expects to find something worth reading, something innovative. But this is just my own opinion for all that matters. If anyone has read the novel it would be my pleasure to hear his comments on it.