Carrie Vaugh has been writing urban fantasy for many years, and her Kitty Norville series is only one example of her work. It is a series focusing on a werewolf, and like many werewolf stories, vampires come into play. Feeling a bit like a side step away from the main narrative, and indeed barely dealing with Kitty or her other friends, The Immortal Conquistador deals with a particular vampire from the series.
Specifically, it follows Ricardo de Avila as he makes a pilgrimage to speak with a religious order of vampires. En route, he spends much time reconsidering his past, shown in the form of a series of stories which have largely been published previously, combined cleverly into what is not quite a memoir or biography, but resembles one well enough. The reader is made aware of Ricardo’s life from before he became a vampire up until very near the present, and in the process becoming familiar with a stubborn character who wishes to stay out of politics and to be with those he cares about.
This is not a book which deals with a single event or traditional narrative thread, but instead jumps to scenes hundreds of years apart, the titular vampire the only character present in every time and place. He faces vampires, meets Doc Holliday, and makes a city almost impossible to conquer for the supernatural forces besieging it. These are all framed by his being pushed into speaking with a rather old vampire Abbott, who is reclusive yet morally more upright than many Ricardo has met.
It is also a book which focuses noticeably upon religious themes. While it does not do so to the degree of A Canticle for Leibowitz, the emphasis is undeniable. There is the question of damnation, and how much one can of blamed for sins forced upon them. While this is somewhat literal in this story, thanks to the vampires, the question of circumstance in relation to morality is none the less relevant.
An important facet of Ricardo is his desire for independence, which is interlaced with a desire for friendship. For many, these two desires would seem mutually exclusive. However, here they are in fact anything but. Everyone wishes to associate with a specific group of people, whether they share interests or are those they take comfort from. There may be only one or two or maybe a very large group. Yet there are those who will always wish to have you play some part in their plans, whether in a personal or professional level. The negatives to refusing ties, particularly of service, are also explored. Ricardo becomes a powerful vampire, yet finds it difficult to gauge his own and others’ situations and abilities because he did not receive much of the formal training expected of a vampire. He does not know the politics, the traditions, or even the expected abilities.
The book features a very nice cover by Elizabeth Story featuring art by Rebecca Harp. Imagery from multiple time periods is put into place, giving the impression of centuries passing, which is true to the book. The large moon reminds the reader of vampires, particularly combined with the heavy use of red on the cover.
Overall this volume works quite well as a standalone. Although part of the Kitty Norville series, this volume can be recommended to anyone who enjoys vampire fiction, and can also be enjoyed by a reader who is not familiar with the series. Indeed for one who does not want to track down the first volume this could be an excellent book for determining if Carrie Vaughn’s supernatural fiction would be of interest.
(Tachyon Press 2020)