The Clan Novel Saga: Setite

Clan Novel: Setite covers events that happen between June 21 and July 31, 1999. It is Book 4 in the original clan novel saga (but third chronologically that ties up its events) and was published in July 1999. It was written by Kathleen Ryan, who also wrote the Ravnos book.

While this novel interacts with the events of the previous books, it practically stands alone. It is structured in three acts and follows a cohesive plot. The events in this book do not rely on knowing the events happening elsewhere in the world, yet they still build on them. Hesha seems unperturbed by most of the upheaval in the vampire world in the eastern United States. The events are inconveniences that require adjustments, but there are no major changes to what he does.

The vampire we focus on in this book is Hesha, along with his immediate and primary mortal support network. Since Hesha’s minion Vegel bought the farm and got turned into a juice box before the end of the Toreador book, he needs a researcher and seer. Enter what could be an homage to Hammer Film’s The Horror of Dracula with the archivist coming to restore The Count’s (Hesha’s) collection of antiquities.

We start in New York, where we have Elizabeth and Hesha testing each other out and unraveling the mysteries around an idol related to the artifact – The Eye of Hazimel. I appreciate the cover art, and how the story resonates with the details: in particular Hesha’s use of a monocle reflects the pursuit of the Eye of Hazimel, which upon use replaces one of the natural orbs of the wielder. Larger portions of the World of Darkness become aware of the progress of the research into this artifact, so Elizabeth is whisked away to the safety of Hesha’s private compound outside Baltimore. Further research progress is made, and Elizabeth begins to have visions, and through these she becomes aware of the vampiric nature of her new employer. They also allow for breakthroughs, sending them to find other portions of the artifact in Calcutta. Here they acquire a Ravnos vampire willing to trade in the location of certain tombs and carvings in exchange for assistance in making it to America. While talking to his local information contact in Calcutta, we get the most succinct summary of the vampire culture in one paragraph that other books couldn’t accomplish with the entire territory available.

“You might say the Camarilla is in possession, little brother. They certainly say it. They have a Prince; they keep court, and the same cast of characters plays out the same little comedy as in… oh, Lisbon, let us say. Ventrue says he wields the power. Tremere witches behind his back. Toreador pretends to rise above it all. Gangrel disdains to need the others. Malkav mystifies everyone, including herself. Brujah shakes a fist at Ventrue. And the Nosferatu watch and say nothing. But in Lisbon, of course, Ravnos is a rare and unwelcome visitor. Here, I daresay he outnumbers the Europeans.”

This one seems more like a heist book or archaeological caper with cultish intrigue. It’s more Da Vinci Code than monster mash. I have to wonder what could have happened if Kathleen Ryan managed to hit that magical moment in time that Dan Brown caught instead. This novel has excellent pacing and reveals enough to intrigue and pull the reader along.

This is a puzzle story woven with personal relationships, particularly those between Elizabeth and Hesha and every member of his team. The vacillation from gaslighting to honesty and back between Elizabeth and the chief of security was nicely constructed. The multiple layers of encouragement, chicanery, and deceit presented by the vampires here show the plans within plans and wheels within wheels that we rarely get to witness. For example, when arriving in Calcutta, Hesha presents himself to the city’s Prince and presents him with multiple gifts. The last is information and proof that one of the Prince’s close associates is betraying him. He provides these gifts not just to curry favor, but also to ensure that the court is distracted and pays no notice while Hesha meets with an undercover member of the court.

This book also follows a number of the conventions of a romance novel, with a young woman being captured and captivated by a mysterious and powerful older gentleman. By providing both of their points of view, we all question whether she loves him, and whether she can love him if she can’t trust him. We also question whether Hesha feels affection for her, or whether it is The Beast tempting his heart and enflaming his passions. As their temptations progress, the visions and imagery are seamless and evocative.

Thompson saw.

He saw the faint, tall curves of barely lit paintings fading into blackness. He saw the shadows of nearer mysteries, ranged along the walls. He saw, at the edge of the light, the closed sarcophagus. He saw his master’s night-dark form stretched out upon it, bare to the waist. He saw a woman, draped in folded white cloth that clung tightly to her body. He saw her dark hair, plaited and knotted into a thick headdress. He saw shining gold flash dully at her neck, her wrists, and ankles. The girl—the queen—the goddess—she took up the black hand of the man before her, and wordlessly bid him rise.

Thompson stood in the doorway in shock; it was so much a scene from a painting of Vegel’s—and he knew it was a trick of the light. The illusion faded—the chance resemblance died as the woman went on moving, and he saw the truth.

Elizabeth stood over Hesha’s dead, cold corpse, holding a lifeless hand to her cheek. She was crying in half-formed sobs, quietly, but as if her heart would break. Her eyes were closed, and if there were words in her mourning Thompson could not hear them.

He took a step down, and the lamp came with him. The linen gown was a plain white nightshirt, wrinkled and twisted until the creases looked like pleats from a distance. Her hair was tangles. As he moved, it looked less and less like the high-born lady’s wig and more like fever-locks. Her jewelry was not gold, but living copper…

And the floor was covered—covered so thickly that the light grey stone showed through only in tiny patches—with the same deadly, molten metal: hundreds upon hundreds of copperhead snakes. Thompson looked out across the sea of brazen backs and shuddered.

While reading these books, I’m trying to keep an eye how representation is handled. Hesha is black and presented as worldly and charming. Race is handled matter-of-factly and inhabits our world. It doesn’t pull punches, but it also does not pander. Elizabeth is an intelligent single woman in her late 20’s, and not presented as a gazelle. Even while confined, she possesses agency, and rattles the metaphorical  bars of her cage.

This is the first book in the series that was a delight to read. I genuinely liked all the characters, even those with a plethora of shades of grey. This book gave me a number of folks to root for. The romance subplot plays out in a realistic fashion, with Elizabeth’s guarded reactions being realistic where it could so easily go trite. While I’m enjoying the other books, I am actively looking forward to what Kathleen brings us in the Ravnos book.

The initial post: The Clan Novel Saga: A Revisitation

The next post: Gangrel