Title: EVERY DARK DESIRE
Author: Fiona Zedde
Publisher: Kensington Books, 2007
ISBN: 0758217382
Rated: 3 Stars
Genre: Lesbian Horror

“Dark” has a variety of meanings in Western culture: obscure, hidden, mysterious, unconscious, exotic, violent, dangerous, associated with death or night, richly pigmented. The massacre and exploitation of darker-skinned peoples by Europeans have been rationalized by means of racist theories about who is “savage” and therefore in need of control.

The parallel treatment of women and animals has been justified by parallel theories. The fifteenth-century Christian Inquisition claimed that woman (femina) had “less faith” (fe + mina) than man, and was therefore more inclined to be seduced to the “dark side” by the Devil, envisioned as a black man or a bestial being with horns and hooves.

For centuries, the patriarchal Christian mindset which produced these ideas has also separated “normal” sex (horizontal, heterosexual, marital, procreative) from all the “perversions” of the instinct to mate. Supposedly, these overlapping concepts are no longer taken seriously by the enlightened, but the “darkness” described above still inspires an endless amount of horror literature, art and movies.

Every Dark Desire reads like the worst nightmare of anyone who still lives by a traditional Western value system. All the central characters are lesbian Jamaican vampires who enjoy the kinds of “power exchange” sex that go with blood sports. While they are all equal-opportunity predators when their blood-lust prompts them to hunt mortals, they prefer female playmates.

Silvija, the charismatic leader of a group of twelve vampires, is a 350-year-old survivor of an attempt by white soldiers to hunt down and kill off maroons, escaped slaves living in the hills. By the 1990s, Silvija has created, nurtured and protected her own endangered “family” of the living dead. These vampires literally seem like the dark side of European colonialism, the ones who weren’t meant to survive.

This book stands out from the red sea of current vampire erotica and casts its own powerful spell. Although they are repeatedly defined as “beasts” and “fiends,” these characters attract the mortal reader as they attract mortal characters in diverse places in the real world: Jamaica and Alaska, with kinky weekends in Los Angeles.

The story begins in Jamaica, a tropical tourist magnet with an ongoing history of violence, where the rich lock their gates against the poor, and where the mortal prey of vampires can easily be disguised as victims of random theft, rape and murder. Life in a Jamaican village, as distinct from the cities, is peaceful enough for Naomi, a young woman who lives in a man-less family with her mother and her beloved young daughter.

However, Naomi can’t resist another woman who catches her eye in the city of Negril, and she slips away from her mother and daughter for a few hours. Naomi is irreversibly “turned” without her consent. After she escapes, she must come to terms with her transformation. She dreams of what she has lost:

“Naomi dreamed that she was alive. The sun touched her with its soft golden fingers, filtering through her hair left loose and heavy against her shoulders. Its heat snuggled into her bare throat and along her arms like an old friend. She leaned against the iron railing of the terrace, looking down on a gold and green Negril. The breeze was light. Laughter hovered in the air like music and she turned, smiling, to find the source of it. Her baby, Kylie, stood on the terrace, laughing and spinning in a circle, while the sun sparkled on her wheat biscuit skin. Naomi’s mama stood nearby, watching. Her look was wistful.”

Fiona Zedde is not the first author to use the changing of a mortal into a vampire as a metaphor for “coming out” into a new identity, but Naomi’s grief and confusion seem uniquely heartbreaking. Even after she has given herself a new name, Belle, and accepted the necessity of living with others like herself, her love for her child is a connecting thread between her old life and her new one.

The love of parents for their biological children rarely seems to be a feature of vampire fiction, but in this sense Every Dark Desire is parallel to Anne Rice’s first novel, Interview with the Vampire, in which the child vampire Claudia represents the author’s desire to resurrect her actual daughter, who died of leukemia at age five. In Zedde’s version, Belle loses track of passing time while Kylie develops into an innocent teenager, not knowing what happened to the mother who is determined to protect her from “monsters” like herself. Could this story possibly have a happy ending? Read it and decide for yourself.

Separated from her human family by her disturbing blood-lust and her vulnerability to sunlight, Belle is claimed by Silvija, who calls her “puppy” and reminds her of how much she doesn’t know about her new lifestyle. Anyone who has survived adolescence can imagine the humiliation of Belle’s position, and she reacts predictably by resenting and defying her teacher. Belle finds herself unbearably attracted to Silvija. In the tradition of the best BDSM fiction, Belle’s ambivalence and resistance to what seems inevitable lead her to self-knowledge and intimacy.

Spending her first winter as a member of Silvija’s clan in their luxurious dwelling in Alaska (chosen for its long hours of darkness), Belle comes to know her new companions in immortality. She is especially drawn to Shaye, a vampire of approximately Silvija’s age who still seems to have the energy and curiosity of a young girl. Appearances are deceptive, however, and Shaye is not Kylie. As in other vampire fiction, these characters remain physically frozen in the stage at which they were “turned,” but they continue to learn and grow inside.

There is enough hypnotic sex in this novel to satisfy readers who want to skip to “the good parts,” but the sex scenes are not simply a distraction from other kinds of tension. The reader/voyeur learns that the vampires of the “family” sometimes have consensual affairs with mortal women whom they could kill at any time. The reader also learns that the vampire clan has a polyamorous group relationship which changes every time a new member joins the group. Every seduction advances the plot, which includes elements of a whodunit, a romance and a coming-of-age novel.

The sensuality of the narrative style, the intensity of the characters’ emotions, and the complexity of the plot are all satisfying. Several of the physical details, however, seem overdone or inconsistent. Persistent references to the flowery smells of individual vampires become cloying. Belle’s habit of breathing heavily in moments of passion until she remembers that she doesn’t need to breathe at all (being “dead”), seem unconvincing.

In addition, the reactions of Caribbean vampires to the cold air of Alaska in winter seem inconsistent. Either they are impervious to the cold, being both “dead” and superhuman, or they need to sleep pressed together to conserve the warmth they can only acquire by taking the blood of the living, but it is hard to see how the author could have it both ways.

Aside from these details, this novel shows that there is still some life left in vampire fiction, a genre that refuses to rest in peace. Fiona Zedde has done a remarkable job of adapting the well-worn tradition of Dracula, the archetypal vampire as a European aristocrat in his remote mountain castle, to other places, cultures and desires. The “dark desires” of socially-marginalized characters might simply alienate some readers, but the magic works for me.

REVIEWED BY JEAN ROBERTA