Blood and Ice, By Robert Masello

Antarctic vampires fail to chill blood
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The Independent Culture

This novel takes nearly 500 pages and covers a lot of ground to tell a rather tiny story. In an 1856 prologue, a Crimean war veteran Sinclair Copley – a survivor of the charge of the Light Brigade – and his love interest Eleanor Ames – one of Miss Nightingale's nurses – are chained together and thrown overboard in southern waters by sailors who have discovered something nasty about their private stock of wine. In the present day, photojournalist Michael Wilde – who has a girlfriend in a coma in lieu of actual characterisation – signs up for a spell in Antarctica among eccentric scientists and macho workmen who conduct oddball research into ice fish, climate change or botany.

While diving, Michael finds Copley and Eleanor preserved in ice. The couple are sawn free for a careful defrosting that, as in the film The Thing, frees an ancient evil. Interleaved with the modern story are 19th-century flashbacks which follow the ice couple's courtship and ordeals – but keep stumbling over Masello's too-frequent sabotaging of well-researched background with modern words or thoughts.

Though it has the material of a horror tale, this novel takes an SF approach, in the manner of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend or Brian Stableford's The Empire of Fear. Sadly, Blood and Ice fails to match those books' skill in painting the undead as natural creatures suffering a mutated blood disease while still making them scary.

When the moustache-twirling villain Copley and shrinking Eleanor are defrosted, any sense of wonder is defused by the surprisingly blasé reactions of the hero and the one-note scientists to what ought to be a terrifying miracle. Unusually, this vampire book could do with a wider streak of melodrama. Masello has clearly done his Crimean reading and boned up on the Antarctic. It's a shame he didn't use this research as a springboard for a more gripping story: there are too many tame vampires around at the moment, and these specimens are never let off the leash.

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