No question about it, I have a fascination with Dracula. Not just Bram Stoker's book, but the myth, the legend, and of course, Vlad Dracul-a or Vlad Tepes. The Impaler.
It was the subject of my first group read that I hosted at On the Ledge Readalongs last year and it continues to be something that hypnotizes me for its darkness, and frightens me just the same.
The History I Should Know More About:
(Dracul is the name of the father, and the -a at the end signifies "son of." Hence, Dracul-a, or Dracula).
Vlad and his younger brother Radu were members of the Order of the Dragon with their father, fighting enemies of Christianity, specifically the Turks, the powerhouse empire of the day. In order to cease the warring, the Sultan holds Young Vlad and Radu as hostages for approximately five years.
Young Vlad was extremely intelligent and excelled in history, languages, and war. Having to leave his brother behind who ultimately converts to Islam, Vlad returns to his home country of Wallachia and continues his father's quest to fight for Christianity. He becomes the leader of his country three different times, all the while warding off traitorous members of his own royal court. While history tends to focus more on the macabre when it comes Vlad, even little is known about Vlad actually providing one of the safest times in his country's history by assuring that anyone could travel on the open road without fear. Vlad punished thieves, rapists, and murderers equally with harsh death and the message was abundantly clear - to be a criminal under Vlad's rule meant death. As a leader, it meant safety for his people, and as a warlord, it meant a horrific end to an enemy's life. Vlad ultimately became known as Vlad Tepes for the barbarous execution of thousands of enemies and traitors by impalement. (Suffice it to say that I will not explain the process here as it turns my stomach, but the book is very, very clear on how it is performed). *shudder*
In Vlad: The Last Confession, C.C. Humphreys has invested a lot of time and research into crafting a version of the infamous voivode (ruler) of a tiny country in Eastern Europe. Although Bram Stoker immortalized the name, the actual man behind the legend is told in this version. It is centered on three crucial figures from Vlad's life: his lover, the beautiful Ilona; an unnamed man of religious counsel; and his both faithful and disloyal friend, Ion.
Told in flashback during a somewhat public confession before a Cardinal of Rome, a few monks, and a member of the Order of the Dragon, Vlad's acts in life are recounted, shared and debated in a cold castle five years after Vlad's death on the battlefield. Questions are posed - impalement is horrible, but during this time, for this supposed cause, was it necessary? Did it not strike fear into his enemies, into the traitors within his own court? The arguments abound as the confessions continue, which is to be sent for review by the Pope. The remaining Order of the Dragon hopes that the Church will forgive what Vlad did on behalf of God. Brutal, medieval, vicious - yes. Do the actions solely define the man that was also a friend, father, teacher, and lover? An impossible question to answer with 21st century eyes. Thank goodness we don't live in that time, so who knows how we would have wanted the leader of a country to be.
Let's be clear - this book is not for the faint of heart. Medieval torture is explicitly described, and the infamous moniker of "The Impaler" is so vividly drawn that when I first came to that section, I lost all my appetite for the dinner I had just started eating. Needless to say for me, I pulled the book closer and forgot all about my plate. After all, this time period seems like there was always war - one country fighting for another spot of land, or to crusade for one's religion, to defend one's honor. Death seemed to be everywhere, and never in a "pleasant" form. C.C. Humphreys is successful in richly describing a period in time that was fraught with despair and peril, while simultaneously revealing the man behind the legend and myth - a man who was conflicted, tormented by his own past, distrustful of others, hardened by his own horrific experiences with torture and suffering, and struggling with winning a war while watching deserters flee the ranks. It will never excuse the cruel actions, but perhaps it's a reminder to always look at history with more of a discerning eye and questioning nature. After all, somewhere in the middle of it all, might be the truth.
And for all its ghastly descriptions, nightmare-inducing, stomach-churning scenes - I was hooked and read this book fast. Excellently written and engaging, within two days I had experienced the trauma of this time and closed the book - expelling a breath in relief that it was over, but recognizing that it was in fact, an incredible read. My first reading of C.C. Humphreys and won't be my last. I'm also off to track down some of the sources he referenced as well...
About the Author
Chris (C.C.) Humphreys was born in Toronto and grew up in the UK. Following his family's established footprint in acting, he has acted all over the world, appearing on stage as Hamlet, on NBC as Caleb the Gladiator in "AD - Anno Domini," and Jack Absolute in Sheridan's "The Rivals." He has written seven historical novels including The French Execution and a trilogy for Young Adults called The Runestone Saga.
Not only is he an actor and writer, but he's also a fight choreographer. Pretty cool, huh?
Click here to visit the author on his website.
This is my fourth selection for the RIP Challenge VI hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings. While I've completed the level of Peril the First, I'm certainly not finished in reading this type of story. It's just now getting cooler in Virginia Beach, Halloween is right around the corner, and I've always loved the creepy, the spooky, and the horror in my books and movies. I think I'm just getting started. You can read more RIP reviews from other participants by clicking here.