I found Sinner’s Opera a psychologically astute page-turner. The characters from the protagonist vampire Morgan D’Arcy and his love Isabeau down to minor supporting cast all work well, propelling the reader through a mesmerizing plot with twists up to the end. I find myself looking forward to a sequel.
Since I’ve never read anything in the vampire romance genre before, I approached Sinner’s Opera in terms of human emotions and motivations. The reader can’t help but feel sympathetic towards the male half of the romantic pair, Lord Morgan D’Arcy, who’s been a vampire since the 1600’s, though Morgan also strikes me as a good depiction of a manipulative psychopath. Nevertheless Morgan has some heartfelt desire to know real love and empathy–all on his own terms, of course.
The various vampire laws and vampire powers in this novel work excellently, integrating into the characters’ development and never becoming mere plot devices. The vampires may initially strike the reader as being inordinately powerful, yet they require these attributes in the face of other inherent shortcomings, like destruction by sunlight or the need to replenish life energies through murder. Teleportation or the ability to rise from mortal wounds seem natural, integrated facets of the vampires, and the casual arrogance with which they wield these powers strikes me as similar to how a nineteenth century British colonial administrator, imbued with centuries of imperial power, might feel towards the natives he feels he benevolently rules. This metaphor is not too far from how Morgan views the object of his love, the genius geneticist Isabeau Gervase. While Morgan feels deep passion for Isabeau, he’s genuinely surprised to find that she has her own view of their relationship. It’s amazing how he can manipulate her and keep her in the dark, how he can mold and control her in the name of his own concept of love. His desire to father a child with her involves keeping it a secret from her–as well as from fellow vampires who’ll punish him for transgressing vampire law.
In his struggles to create a lasting bond with Isabeau and thus enter, however tentatively, into her human values, Morgan develops a glimmer of a conscience, and despite his self-preoccupation he does genuinely suffer. With several hundreds years of romantic experience behind him, Morgan has watched over and tantalized Isabeau since her infancy, and has even guided her towards a scientific career investigating the DNA of vampires, but his love life with her never comes off quite as planned. But his self-confidence is breathtaking, even admirable, and even when he’s stripped of some or all powers, his inner cocksureness remains. As for Isabeau, although she does succumb to Morgan, her own deep strengths, including her rationality and groundedness in a scientific worldview, eventually find expression and lead her to a life-defining decision.
A comic tone pervades the novel but never veers into clever irony which might diminish the pursuit of the psychological truths of the characters. The alpha dog snarling between a jealous Morgan and Isabeau’s self-important ex-fiancé John is hilarious. The ending posits more in this series, and I’m definitely anticipating a sequel.
Review by Michael D. Smith