This blog series starts here: https://pseudopod.org/2018/10/25/the-clan-novel-saga-a-revisitation/
In 1999, White Wolf embarked on their most ambitious fiction project to tie in to their Vampire: the Masquerade game line. This may be the most ambitious fiction tie-in for any role-playing product, ever. They repeated this one more time with a Clan Saga to tie in to their Vampire: The Dark Ages set. There was also another for Werewolf that bundled tribes into a two-per-book format, so the ambition is already dwindling. While there are some D&D products that have massive catalogs for a setting, I’m not sure that any reach this scope and scale. Maybe Drizzt books, although those were not envisioned as a set of thirteen (or fourteen) linked books.
If I were to make a recommendation to anyone picking these books up for the first time, I would consider a much more pared list:
- Ventrue (optional)
Jettisoning the rest of the books leaves out nothing. Any important events are either covered in one or more recaps, or are better obtained from context. Alternately, I would recommend the reader spoil themselves about the Nickolai secondary sub-plot [insert link to Nosferatu write-up] and see how effective the bread crumbs are dropped throughout the entire series.
Some things niggled at me as ill-fitting or maladroitly assembled. One was the mechanic of the blood bond, which did not appear to be common knowledge to most of the characters. I recall that as a player, this was part of Vamp 101 taught to the neonates brought into the vampire world. The blood bond was a mechanism where a vampire feeds someone their blood to ensure loyalty. One will make them generally disposed towards the vampire, two will make them affectionate, and three will convert them to a thrall. This was a mechanism for vampires to create bug-eatingly loyal servants, or to exert control over other vampires. Core mechanics should be played consistently throughout a tie-in product.
My greatest frustration was that often pivotal events either happen off screen, or are so obfuscated that they may as well have. Instead of showing us these pivotal scenes, we’re tortured with oblique visions and prophecy and musing the same thoughts multiple times. If something of this scale were ever to be tackled again, it would be beneficial to have a much stronger editorial hand throughout to excise the flabby parts. And considering the reliance on the major plots to drive the narrative forward, every major event should be shown on screen. With this many perspectives, there’s an incredible opportunity to provide a Rashomon treatment to the more pivotal happenings.
I kept a rough scorecard to consider how well these books aged. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised, and White Wolf comes out the better for some of their attention to details.
- First, the cover art showed a level of diversity that is still not exceptionally common. There are POC’s on five of the 13 clan novel covers. Monsters inhabit two more, with the remaining six being more obviously white.
- The gender parity of major characters overall was rather balanced. While individual books might skew heavily one way or another, in the end the balance seemed good. There is a noticeable presence of non-binary characters and queer or non-traditional relationships, including polyamory. One of the primary non-binary characters started life as a male but presents throughout this book as either a woman or something androgynous. With a single authorial hand, I think the exploration of this character could have been as evocative as that with Eli in Let the Right One In almost was.
- The vampires are across the spectrum of sexuality. For some of the vampires, sexual attraction is irrelevant, and for others it is a core focus. I would have liked if these had delved into the motivation for human sexual urges in creatures that reproduce through the gift of blood. Monsters whose love is wholly distinct from sexual urges was more adeptly covered.
- One black mark against these is the physical quality of books. Some of my copies had the glued pages becoming unmoored from the cover. Others had the glossy coating on the cover peeling off. These were made fast and cheap, and time is not their ally.
- I found it interesting that there were no Y2K-associated end of the world fears. There was no mention of the Y2K bug, even though the writing started before then, and that topic consumed so much energy at the time. Nor did it really shine a light on the weird apocalyptic prophets and cults that sprang up in fear of the new millennium.
I enjoyed the different styles of stories throughout. While most of these were generally plot-driven stories, the occasional change of pace was refreshing. Setite had an archaeological adventure feel like Indiana Jones, but with the relationships even more to the front. Tremere’s “school story” format was an excellent concept. I think both the authors and the readers would have benefited from a diagram of the major characters and their relationships. One example that would have helped the writers is the disappearance of the Brujah Archon Julius from the plot after the first two books. The readers would have benefited from tracking the cast of minor characters and how they related to the rest of the world. If pressed, I would say these are entertaining enough to read once, but I don’t think they have a significant value for multiple visits.
The initial post: The Clan Novel Saga: A Revisitation
The next post: Bonus review: Snowbird Gothic