About bloody time, Jason Nahrung. I’ve been waiting for something like Blood and Dust ever since I heard one of Nahrung’s short stories (Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn) on the Terra Incognita Speculative Fiction podcast a couple of years ago. Yes, yes – I know he released a sensitive almost literary novella recently filled with beautiful gothic themes and broody settings earlier in the year. I liked Salvage and thought it was a great read. But this is the novel I’ve been waiting for. Vampires in the Australian outback. Love it.
Kevin Matheson is a young mechanic in a small rural town somewhere out the back of the Australian state of Queensland. He dreams of marrying his high school sweetheart, taking over his father’s garage/service station and helping keep his rural community alive. Then a cop arrives dragging a prisoner with a stake through his heart, a dying partner and a truckload of vampire bikies behind him and Kevin’s life isn’t the same again.
Blood and Dust has been released as an eBook only from the relatively new Xoum. I’m always interested in what level of quality control a new publisher brings, and it seemed good with only a single typo jumping out at me. Xoum also published Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott recently, which I’ve reviewed here.
The world building in this novel is extensive, but inserted into the story in a seamless way. By the end of the novel I had a good sense of the much larger world outside the rural setting of the novel, but I never felt like there was a lot of info dumping. This is difficult to pull off, but Nahrung makes it seem effortless.
Be warned. There is violence. And sex. And sexy violence. And violent sex. On the whole, Nahrung does not hold back from exploring what the reality would be for creatures that needed blood to survive and for those that provide it. It may not be for everyone, but the everyday life of a Blood and Dust vampire provides a visceral backdrop to the storyline.
The pace is thriller-like, with escalating conflict all the way through. I tore through the book in a couple of sittings, ignoring my family and duties around the house. Thank <insert deity of choice here> I’m on holiday from work.
While the story is probably more plot driven than character driven, there is still significant character development through the novel. Not all the character arcs felt entirely complete, I suspect there may be plans for more writing in the world that Nahrung has created.
Some of the characters are Australian Aborigines, and there are themes of connection to land and dispossession that come through strongly in the novel. These will resonate strongly with an Australian audience, especially the references to the stolen generation of Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their parents and sent to live in white homes. There was a small reference to the fact that Aboriginal vampires had evolved differently from European vampires – I hope this is something covered in more detail in future work, it was a fascinating idea. I’m not Aboriginal myself and so can’t really comment on whether the Aborigines in the story were portrayed realistically, but it seemed believable to me.
As an Australian, I love reading speculative fiction that has an Australian sensibility. In Blood and Dust I particularly like the rural/outback setting. It is not the first place you’d think to place vampires (they’d probably blend in better in Melbourne – they all seem to like wearing black and being trendily miserable there). But using an outback setting adds a freshness to the tropes, and creates a real juxtaposition between undead creatures of the night and the sun soaked desolation of an Australian landscape in drought.
Now while I loved the “Australianess” of the story I did wonder while reading whether that local flavour would put off non-Australian readers. For those readers, I draw your attention to the Australian-English translation guide at the back of the book. Also I’d be fascinated to hear from any non-Australian readers on how you found the book. Leave a comment below!
Nahrung’s take on the vampire is interesting, and certainly harkens back to the darker interpretations of the vampire ethos. I particularly liked the way a connection is drawn between the vampire and those that provide blood, providing a natural check to their population growth. And the vampire familiars are equally well drawn, the “red eyes” who provide the vampires with a steady source of blood and daylight protection and are rewarded with youth, strength and vitality.
The writing itself is evocative and visceral. There is sentiment in the story, but it is not over done. Nahrung is comfortable portraying the dark and the macabre and the confidence of his writing is a joy to behold. I’m perhaps betraying my literary preferences, but this story is firmly in the genre camp and a joy to read because of it.
My thirst for Queensland vampires momentarily slacked, I find the desire for more work in this world starting to build already. Come on Jason, get on with it.
I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.
This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.