Blood Sacraments – Todd Gregory, ed. (Bold Strokes Books)

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The restless imagination of some writers amazes me. They can take the most tired, worn out situations, stand them on their heads and come up with something fresh or, in some cases, startlingly original. And that describes perfectly most of the vampire stories in Todd Gregory’s latest offering, Blood Sacraments.

The collection starts off strong with Jeff Mann’s story of an Appalachian vampire meeting undead Roman nobility in “Black Sambuca.” This tasty morsel, like much of Mann’s work, is full of delicious BDSM underpinnings that work well within the conventional vampire setting. Jay Lygon’s “Kells,” a tale about an adolescent vampire, his best friend and a mentor-to-be is also top notch work, as is Gregory’s own French Quarter story “Bloodletting” and S.A. Garcia’s eerie Greek isle elegy “Agapios Island.”

For sheer cleverness and ballsy genre-busting, however, it’s tough to beat ‘Nathan Burgoine’s brilliant “Three,” in which three outcasts—a demon, a vampire and a mage—decide to pool their resources for maximum effect. Burgoine’s characters are as sharp as the points on their teeth and their dialogue snaps like breaking spines. This is a truly chilling story that takes fiendish delight in defying the reader’s expectations.

“The Celtic Confessional” by Davem Verne and “Possession: A Priest’s Tale” by Max Reynolds provide two very different approaches to vampirism and religion. Verne takes his monk, Brother Donal, and young Irish farmer Fionn over the top both sexually and sacreligiously to a wonderful, fulfilling finish while Reynolds takes a more conventional approach to his story of how vampire Raul Garcia comes to possess a young priest at a Louisiana leper colony. However, Reynolds’ tale is lush and sumptuous in ways that Verne’s isn’t—showing how rich and varied vampire writing can actually be when authors look beyond the usual plotlines.

Among my other favorites here are Nathan Sims’ “Long in the Tooth,” a nicely told revenge tale that takes place during a vampire’s funeral, Joseph Baneth Allen’s story of a halfway house for recovering vampire victims, “The Bone Box,” and the unlikely romance of Jeffrey Ricker’s “Lifeblood.”

So, for those of us who have considered the vampire theme to be tired and worn out, these fresh, exciting stories are undead proof there’s still some life in the old corpse yet. You can bet the bank on it.

The blood bank, that is. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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