Book Review “Supernatural Causes, Episode One: Going Viral”

Supernatural Causes, Episode One: Going Viral

Published and distributed by Engen Books, St. John’s, NL.

Digital Release: April 2017

Copyright 2017 Amanda Labonté

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In the serial novel “Supernatural Causes, Episode One: Going Viral,” author Amanda Labonté welcomes readers to New Port, ground zero for the war on drugs. Actually, that doesn’t matter as much as Liesel Andrews would have her friends and family believe. No, this is the landing place of vampires, witches, and werewolves after they fled from Europe long ago. Liesel is a pre-med student who discovers that she may also be living in ground zero for a new Superbug, one that affects the supernatural residents who have always been immune to common illness.

While I am not the most avid vampire/werewolf fantasy reader, I found myself impressed with Labonté’s take on these creatures of the night. First of all, allow me to also preface this review by stating that I will be calling this a Vampire Fantasy. While the novel may expand, the viewpoint of episode one is mostly within the genre of Vampire Fantasy. I would be interested in some expansion on the werewolf culture and the witches as well, but only time will tell as more episodes are released. Labonté appears to be running with the original myth behind vampires. At first, I admired the title of the book for its clever play on the phrase “natural causes,” in medical speech. Her use of the plague origin story, however, is a far more brilliant choice. What appears to be a mere background history is actually acting as a lead into the oncoming danger. A passing explanation of vampire origin plants the impressions gained from talk of the dangerous epidemic which is forever seeded in societal consciousness. So when the almighty creatures who grew from the horrors of the plague are finally brought down by a new affliction, the reader can quickly feel as though the whole world could be in danger.

Furthermore, the opening of the novel is directly in line with the entire genre of medical fiction, giving no hesitance to the choice of title. The beginning is a superb hook, ushering readers into the midst of the emergency room action. While it is always important to begin with a proficient hook, when working with the serial format, it is absolutely paramount. Labonté harnesses not only medical suspense but mixes it directly with elements of the fantasy genre, intriguing readers and guiding them into the heart of this unique world order.

Readers follow Liesel from the supposed outer reaches of a world, which her gift made her an observer of, to the very center of underworld society. While she initially appears to be just another unimportant member of support in this unique society, she is soon convinced to delve through the hierarchy and investigate as a diagnostician. Through each clue revealed, it becomes clear that she may very well be the most important bridge between all underworlders. One wonders how long it will take her to see her importance and take up the mantle of hero?

Vampire Fantasy carries a set of particular themes to be fulfilled. For instance, the view an author chooses to explore with regards to the underworld. Vampires are members of what is essentially the monsters of the night. Thus, a story may not always speak of them from a position of sympathy. Indeed, the first vampire stories were historically unsympathetic. Like a Van Helsing interpretation, vampires were only depicted as repulsive. They were the epitome of evil; mindless killing machines without room for personality. However, “Supernatural Causes” follows the popular modern day approach, telling the story through Liesel’s sympathetic interpretation of the nightmare folk. The fact that she is their doctor immediately humanizes them. Suddenly, the immortal god-like underworlders are brought closer to our human experience, thus giving the reader a chance to understand them easier. Furthermore, it allows the reader to unconsciously disregard much of the foreign and monstrous aspects that could otherwise focus on terror and the unknown which would steer the story into Horror. Therefore, readers can be sympathetic to Christophe and the Lieutenants, as well as the werewolves. Fear comes easily, not for their monstrous existence, but for their survival and their comfort. Labonté is tapping into the contemporary approach in which Vampire Fantasy becomes more about understanding and relating to the struggles of those who are different. What was once a simplistic trope is made more intriguing and dramatic as seen in similar monster stories as the comic turned television show IZombie or The Santa Clarita Diet1. Morality is evolved to include an openness for what is alien.

Another common genre expectation in Vampire Fantasy is the presence of violence. There has always been violence attached to vampires. Whether they are mindless killing machines, or “vegetarians,” their existence is inherently violent. They depend on feeding through biting and drinking blood or a form of life energy. “Supernatural Causes,” while remaining loyal to the basics of vampires, presents a potentially more evolved process. Vampires are far more integrated into human society expected. They can appear in the daylight, although they risk severe sunburn. A choice which reinforces aspects far less detached from their human origin. The feeding process is shown to be a sexual act or at least a process mixed with sexual pleasure. This is alluded to, in part, by the jealousy of Christophe’s partner, Jenna. Since Labonté’s vampires are not cold blooded, the reactions behind attraction and excitement are believable. Further assisting the suspension of disbelief is how they have taken to, and advantage of, the contemporary pastime of clubbing and hooking up. This is a great show of integration.

Another example of the violence which is often present in this genre of fantasy is the clash between vampires and werewolves. Not unlike a deep-seeded history of distaste and violence known between countless groups such as the Irish and the English or Israelis and Palestinians. Taking the main danger of the story, the threat from a universal sickness could serve as a common ground to help end the conflict between these historical rivals. At least for a time.

This episode came to the table with some moments to chuckle or smirk, and it definitely made it easy to get into some of the scenes, striking a balance between being too short and forgettable, and becoming too lengthy, descriptive and boring. Instead, it kept me coming back to read more. Another must-have with serialized fiction is to end on a high note. This was the home run for “Supernatural Causes.” Labonté’s scene reveals an understanding of what serials require for continued readership and success. Just when we get comfortable, the world is blown wide open! At the very point of climatic conflict, where the potential for war is literally a foot away, new truths topple the aggression into frantic suspense.

The one overall drawback that stands out about this work is that it requires further proofreading. Perhaps, as an editor, I may be a little more discerning than most. However, this is without a doubt, a growing distraction for readers. Even more so, when it comes to ebooks, the current audience can be turned off from a series if it presents too many errors. From a cursory investigation, “Supernatural Causes” does not appear to have been worked over by an editor. No credit is given on the front matter or copyright.2 One might guess the manuscript went through fewer hands because it was a free episode. However, the fact that this is an introduction, the force of the story can be diminished by what is, mostly, frequent typos. By all means, this episode being the first means it required a lot of care. I know it is no easy feat to even compose and publish a work, but today’s readers are so jaded and therefore quicker to cut ties with a story than in previous eras. In order to not only maintain attention but to grow it further, I would recommend the hand of at least a proofreader.

I would recommend “Supernatural Causes” to almost any adult who enjoys fantasy or, like me, holds some curiosity toward it. While a little soft on the medicine, it’s enough to satisfy appetites of fans who come from that side of the genre. I actually feel that it might even be better if the reader is not a hardcore Vampire Fantasy reader or if they are, that they are the type who can be objective and analytical toward each new story.

Now I must await the next installment set to release June 15th.

footnotes:

  1. It appears I am more of a modern zombie buff than a vampire one
  2. Historically, editors are not credited or named in fiction. 
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