Something I've always enjoyed is a new take on an old trope. Vampires have been around forever. Seriously, think about it. I personally have read everything from Bram Stoker's Dracula to P.N. Elrod's I, Strand: The Memoirs of a Vampire to about the first hundred and forty or so pages of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. Anne Rice and her Vampire Chronicles will always have a place in my heart. I've literally read and watched so many vampire stories that I can't remember them all. I have never seen vampires done quite like Declan Finn did his in Honor at Stake. His take is new and refreshing and I loved it. The story itself was both entertaining and action packed, but vampire lore as interpreted through Catholic philosophy a la Thomas Aquinas is both new and interesting. The fact that he seems to have added a scientific explanation for the existence of vampires was a lot of fun as well. The nerd in me approves of this for the simple fact that I like to know everything and Finn offers me the answer to one of Fantasy's oldest questions.
Finn is the proprietor of a blog known as A Pius Man and is also a member of The Catholic Geeks so it's hardly surprising to see him take a Catholic point of view on anything. Still, his Catholic background clearly provides him with the background needed to fit his theory of vampirism into his own strange theology. I admit to not being as familiar with the philosophy of Aquinas as Mr Finn but he makes it work even to a relative neophyte such as myself. He also made me a bit bitter toward my Intro to Western Philosophy professor but it's not Finn's fault that my prof skipped from Aristotle all the way to Friedrich Nietzsche. Still, Finn got his point through to me and I had no familiarity. He explains enough to get his point across without coming to a full stop and delivering a lecture.
Finn is also obviously and old-school roleplayer. No, I'm not referring to someone who plays Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games like Everquest or World of Warcraft, both of which I have enjoyed, but someone who has played pen and paper RPGs. I'm not sure which ones but one of his characters flat out states that alignment has an effect on the powers and limitations of his vampires. He actually phrases it better but I can't remember the exact quote and I'm too lazy to look it up. I got a kick out of it. I've played Dungeons and Dragons and just about every Palladium RPG published in or before the mid 90s. I don't want to think about how many I've read through and never gotten a chance to play. I got a kick out of it. It's not a major part of the story, it's more of a throw away line, but it made my day. If you've played you'll love it. If not, it's like one paragraph out of the story and you probably won't even notice it. Either way, I couldn't NOT mention it.
The plot of the book combines a mystery with a Blade style battle against vampires with a government agent that knows about the supernatural and fights it just like in everybody paranoiac's fantasy about conspiracies. Oh, and let's not forget about the Vatican's special forces unit. Just like the old Prego commercial, "It's in there!" There is a surprise around every corner and one or two other factions that I've intentionally left out. The crazy part is that the conspiracy isn't even led by the government. Trying to figure out how it all goes together is just part of the fun.
Finn's characters are both deep and flawed and that makes them entertaining. Two of them fall in love and won't admit it. One of them is truly a sadist and wants to hide it. Others have a weird sense of humor. His villains are truly villainous. There is always a sense that worse is about to happen and it usually does. Not all is revealed and even when things are revealed they open up more questions. I'm still trying to figure something out and it's bugging me. It seems to me that there has to be at least one more book coming and this has the feeling of an ongoing series that never ends.
As much as I enjoyed the characters in Honor at Stake there is one who I can't stand: Cliff Hanger makes an appearance. Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the book and I'm glad to know that there are more coming but after all the freshness and goodness of this story Finn hit us with the most overdone cliche in the history of history. Cliff hangers drive me up a wall. Having said that much, I'm still looking forward to the next installment. I just hope it gets here soon after he dropped that on all of us.
My only other complaint is that the cast may be a little too big at times. This seems to be the beginning of a series so I guess it's to be expected but it's not always easy to remember who is who. I really felt like I needed a scorecard at certain points. It's a manageable problem and seems to be something that will work itself out over time as we have more story to get used to the characters. I still loved the book.
Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 fangs
Honor at Stake
Eternal Press, 2015