Vermilion Tears by Tia Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Simple, easy to understand and follow. That defines Vermilion Tears, by Tia Lee, and this summation is at both times a boon and a bane. I read this book while sidelined with the Flu, and while it has been helpful in getting my mind off my body trying to kill me, I can’t say that it was my cup of tea.
The story follows Lydia and Reuben’s journey, both as a couple and individuals through Victorian New York. There are the usual trappings of the paranormal that seems to be popular now – werewolves and vampires - a quintessential evil villain in the professor, and the angst around hidden talents, abilities, etc. Standard fare for anyone familiar with this genre.
What is done well would be the characterizations of Lydia, and Ruben, along with the flow of the plot. In addition, this book didn’t rummage around in too many clichés, and the general pace is effective enough. The ending also does feel proper, and overall the editing is fine. Yet, reading through, there were quite a few things that felt “off” to me.
First, the writing. Now, full disclosure: I tend to appreciate books that are literary, with complex themes, tones, and styles. Vermilion is not this, and never tries to be. Lee’s style is simpler. Unfortunately, there are places where the writing feels dictated; we see an almost exclusive use of “telling rather than showing.” Further, there is never much alteration in the flow, and indeed, the book opens with several paragraphs beginning with a character’s name – Marcus. Moreover, when the writer delves into prose there is a 50/50 shot it will be clear, and not confusing.
Second, the overall theme. I am not going to get into the argument over whether I feel werewolf/vampire stories are overdone. However, Vermilion’s initial setup reminded me too closely of the movie Underworld. This changes later, thankfully, however nothing herein struck me as particularly unique.
Third, the setting. There are too many inaccuracies to put this in Victorian time. This is perhaps, again, a failing of my hobbies and interests; I am quite big into history. From the speech patterns, to certain devices used. It is not believably Victorian.
Now to step back. There is a good thread of a story here, and Lee shows a capable hand in its crafting, that will only grow stronger and more distinct with time. For a debut novel it is effective, and indeed there are quite a few folks out there where Vermilion Tears might be exactly their cup of tea. However, I prefer Earl Gray over a simple black.
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