The Clan Novel Saga: Malkavian

Clan Novel: Malkavian starts with flashbacks to 1788 before primary focus returns after the siege of Atlanta, with activities running from June 22 through October 20, 1999. It is Book 9 in the original clan novel saga, and was published in March 2000. It was written by Stewart Wieck, who also wrote the Toreador novel. My hopes of this book being better than that one were mercilessly crushed early on.

I loved that the modern portion of this book started in Bosnia, reflecting an interesting sign of the times. That chapter of military activity is something that Americans do their best to forget ever happened. It’s fenced out of popular memory as an uncomfortable reminder of tragedies that were debatably mitigated through international actions. With the hindsight of 20 years available, a powerful metaphor could have been developed here. Then again, this author couldn’t even build a metaphor or call back to include the Burning of Atlanta in 1864, so I’ll just stick with my headcanon.

Our primary POV Malkavian is Anatole, the Prophet of Gehenna (the “end times” for the vampires in their mythology.) Anatole is an obtuse and tedious prose poet who looks backwards and forwards at metaplot with plenty of metaphors, while failing to advance the story or provide action. We also meet his unnamed Watcher, who passively accompanies him and provides another layer of less obtuse metaphor. While he’s not frustratingly annoying, he suffers the burden of simply being dull. There is a lot of this book spent sitting and thinking and watching. However, as Malkavians are the ultimate in unreliable narrators, this Watcher (who merely observes the world) is eventually revealed to be another of the Prophet’s personalities. We get an entertaining additional layer when a Nosferatu is sent to attend to Anatole as an additional Watcher, who attempts to gently nudge events and destinations. At least we get to see both The General and Benison Hodge again, two of the highlights of the first novel.

Along with those two characters, I am happy for a return to Atlanta. While my city wasn’t showcased as compellingly as I’d like — a real shame, since White Wolf was based right here — at least it received better treatment than in the official game sourcebooks. The most annoying bit of local flavor in this book was one of our characters looking at the Sunday Edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It wasn’t the presence of the paper, but the author’s need to make sure the reader was aware that the AJC was the leading paper in the city[1]. While in no fashion am I denigrating the quality of the Marietta Daily Journal or the Gwinnett Daily Post, I don’t think most people would consider those leading newspapers in Atlanta. Maybe since the characters were in Midtown, they were trying to clear up potential confusion with the free weekly paper Creative Loafing.  But in a book full of meaningless chaff and unnecessary clarifications, this one bugged me an unreasonable amount.

The best thing we get in our return to Atlanta is The General. We’re told he had been nicknamed “The Badger” because he likes digging tunnels and fighting stuff. The author wanted to make sure that we understood that The General was the metaphorical badger picking fights in Anatole’s visions. The only plot worth mentioning in this book is when Victoria Ash is sent off to Atlanta to look up clues on Leopold.

But before she delves into clue-hunting, she puts on a catsuit with strategic cutouts and go-go boots, arms herself with a pile of guns and bombs, and heads to the CSX Railyard to exact revenge on The Tailor who tortured her. Some other bad guys show up to take her down, but they weren’t counting on The General arriving as cavalry. In an attempt to counter this, The Tailor uses that weird Tzimisce power to turn into some sort of kaiju vaguely reminiscent of a T-Rex.

He slapped hard at the Tzimisce’s armor with one hand, and a crack instantly spread from the point of impact. The follow-up came immediately. The General’s other hand crashed through the fractured shell and, with a spray of blood and gore, splashed into the flesh beneath.

The Tzimisce bucked like a raging stallion and howled a high, piercing squeal that shattered one of the General’s eardrums. But the Malkavian held on. As Elford clawed his opponent, the General again formed into cloud of mist and quickly squirted into the creature’s body through the hole he had stove in the chitin. The Tzimisce scratched fruitlessly at his own body, shattering off plates of the chitin and rending slabs of his own flesh from his body.

With the barest amount of strength remaining in his body, the General forced himself to transform again—while still within the hideous creature. It was a tactic never possible before—natural flesh was too dense and would not allow the mist to reform into the shape the General required. But inside the armored shell, Elford’s flesh was fibrous and loosely connected.

So a terrific explosion of protoplasmic tissue followed, and when the General dragged himself from the foulness spread thick upon the ground, the dead Tzimisce resembled less a man than the remains of a monstrous egg.

This book would be hot garbage without this entire sequence. Elford “The Tailor” dies in a very satisfactory fashion. Shortly afterwards, Benison Hodge dies in an unsatisfactory one, as Anatole kills him before he can either point out a contradiction in Anatole’s self-delusion or speak some secret out loud in front of the Nosferatu watcher (which Anatole could just erase). At least Hodge helps to pay off the weird Tremere sculpture sequence from the first book, but not in a terribly fulfilling fashion.

Malkavians have always been one of my favorite clans, and this author almost makes me hate them. There is so much bullshit metaphorical vision garbage. And yet, where things could be left as psychic subtext in thoughts, we’re told it outright, usually with a gesture or two towards that plain and outright statement, to make sure we didn’t miss it. And the visions never get better. At least the Malkavians in this book are tragic, instead of the comic relief they generally provided in the other books. That said, the best Malkavian in the entire clan novel saga is Leopold as portrayed in the Ravnos book. I included an excerpt of him in the Ravnos write-up. Unfortunately Leopold, the best Malkavian, is actually a Toreador, who is only compellingly portrayed in one book.

I was disappointed when the Malkavians were left out of the television show Kindred: The Embarrassed, as some unreliable characters could have really made things intriguing. My favorite presentation of a mentally disturbed vampire has always been Drusilla, in the Buffy shows. Her tenuous grasp on sanity was effectively played for pathos, and she was a tormented monster. This book makes me want to find tie-in fiction in that world to help wash out the bad taste.

[1] I know vampires are old, but the readers aren’t, and few perusing this book would remember the merger of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution in 1982 (almost 20 years before the events in these books) so that’s probably not the point that is being clarified.

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