Vampire Diary: The Embrace

WW 04800 $14.99 Jan-95
Black Dog
Written by Robert Weinberg and Mark Rein*Hagen


[$14.99] [Jan-95] (Mature Readers) - Robert Weinberg and Mark Rein*Hagen

Much like the GRIFFIN AND SABINE series of books, Vampire Diary: The Embrace is a three-dimensional experience created to appear as a diary, complete with an actual clasp and lock! Letters, postcards, and other inserts collectively open an almost voyeuristic window through which the reader will come to know Auston Jacobson, a Los Angeles bartender courted by an ancient vampire. World Fantasy medalist Robert Weinberg has teamed with Mark Rein*Hagen to document one man's descent into darkness!

Review by Mike Baker (Feb 95)

Posted with permission on by on 6 Feb 95.

From the February 1995 issue of AFRAID: The Newsletter for the Horror Writer. Reviewed by Mike Baker.

Before I start this review, I have to say that I haven't actually seen a finished copy of Vampire Diary: The Embrace. Based on the promo I received, it sounds like an interesting visual package -- it is designed to look like an actual diary, complete with lock and clasp, and like the popular Griffin & Sabine books, it contains various inserts such as notes, letters, bus tickets and other stuff like that -- but it's still one I haven't actually laid eyes upon. The pre-publication promo copy contains the complete text of the book, plus samples of some of the finished pages. What follows is a review of Vampire Diary: The Embrace as a work of fiction, with a few general comments about the artwork (what little of it I've seen) thrown in. That's all it is.

Vampire Diary: The Embrace tells the story of Auston Jacobson, a bartender at Neverland, a trendy (aren't they all) Los Angeles nightclub. For reasons which are never explained, Auston has decided to keep a diary. In it he records his deepening relationship with Danya, a young woman he met at the club (at last Auston has found his true love). He also writes down the nightmares he's been having, as well as his on-the-job adventures: how the club's manager is a dick & a petty thief; how he gets promoted to being the club DJ, then the manager; how the club is owned by a vampire (aren't they all);and how said vampire bites him (or gives him the Embrace, to use proper games-related terminology).

As a work of fiction, Vampire Diary: The Embrace pretty much fails on every level. It's generic, by-the-book vampire fiction, right on down to having a tragic vampire hero (he's still a nice guy, even if he does occaisionally lose control and kill people) who we're all supposed to feel sorry for.

The plot of Vampire Diary: The Embrace is paper thin, predictable from start to finish; anyone with even the most limited knowledge of the genre will be able to guess the "surprises" long before they actually occur. And as for the "authentic, intimate, frighteningly real evidence that vampires do exist" which the book supposedly contains, I'm afraid I couldn't find any. Yeah, I believe in vampires. I also believe that Elvis lives in the apartment above mine, that Cthulu can be summoned if you try hard enough, and that the government is my friend.

There were three things in particular which bothered me about Vampire Diary: The Embrace . First, nothing is resolved at the end; everything is left hanging, leaving the door wide open for the inevitable sequel. Were you aware that there's a Vampire: The Masquerade TV movie currently in the works (See The Good News in AFRAID #28 for more info on it)? Well, there is, and Vampire Diary: The Embrace is kinda-sorta tied in with it, which, when you get right down to it, is why there isn't an ending; things have to be left open for the hope-for weekly series where Auston, our tragic vampire hero, overcomes the terminal angst which threatens to drive him mad, gets his life back on track, and challenges ancient evil on a weekly basis.

Also, while we're on the subject of the ending, there's a big logic/continuity flaw just before that non-ending occurs. Auston makes mention that he's going to send the diary to his brother care of his father, since he's lost touch with his brother and doesn't know where he is. But, the very first thing you encounter when you open the diary is a letter from Auston to his brother, a letter which bears an L.A. address. If Auston knew where his brother lived, why did he mention that he hoped his dad would pass the package along? And if he didn't know, then how did he address the envelope? It just doesn't make sense.

Second, Vampire Diary:The Embrace doesn't read like a stand-alone piece of fiction, but a hook with which to snare unwary readers in hopes of luring them into buying other Vampire: The Masquerade/World of Darkness-related gaming material(or getting them to watch the TV movie). The gaming references practically jump out and slap you in the face, especially the explanation Claudius (the club owning vampire who bites Auston) gives as to what vampires are (there's these 13 clans, see, and they all follow these seven laws, the first of which is the Masquerade, which also happens to be the sub-title of the game, which is available now at fine hobby shops near you). After that particular section, I kept expecting Auston to talk about the deck of Jyhad cards Claudius pulled out to demonstrate just how powerful the Ventrue clan really is.

Third, the diary has a schizophrenic feel to it; it just doesn't read like it was written by one person (which it wasn't). Some parts of it are well written, while others are overwritten to the extreme. Who actually wrote what is anybody's guess (only the authors know for sure). I will say this, though: I"m familiar with both authors' other work; one, I enjoy, the other I find to be derivative, turgid, and not very fun to read at all. Guess whose writing Vampire Diary: The Embrace most resembles?

In Vampire Diary: The Embrace, Auston is supposed to be a person with a limited education; this is shown by the misspellings and gramatical errors which are (purposefully) scattered throughout the diary. Why then, I ask, do his English and vocabulary skills come and go? Sometimes Auston has difficulty forming grammatically correct sentences, while at others he writes lines like "I am a virgin vanquished, my blood proof of my purity" and "Memory plays such cruel tricks, such twisted timing" and "The invisible bonds of will and volition dissolved like smoke." Sorry, it just didn't work for me. Also, much of what Auston writes doesn't read like what you'd expect to find in a diary. It is just too refined, not spontaneous enough. The same holds true for the artwork on the samples of the finished pages the promo copy contains; most looks like they were carefully planned and laid out, not like something scrawled/sketched by a semi-talented, out of practice artist on the spur of the moment.

I've quibbled so much already, what's one more. In the press release which came with this promo copy (which I'm sure they probably wish they'd never sent me now), Vampire Diary: The Embrace is called "One of the most unique books ever to hit the dark fantasy genre." How so? Where's the originality in swiping the format of the Griffin & Sabine books? True, those books aren't dark fantasy; they aren't about vampires. But it doesn't matter. Taking something that's successful, stealing its basic premise, then having the balles to call yourself unique just doesn't cut it. A knockoff is a knockoff no matter how well you try to disguise it with hype.

For the life of me, I can't see who White Wolf hopes to market this book to. Its thinness (we're talking novellahere, if it is even), coupled with the price, will turn off most horror fans. It's too esoteric a subject matter to appeal to the general book-buying public, and since there's no supplementary gaming material included with it (or new Jyhad cards), it'll probably be passed up by gamers. That leaves hard-core vampire fans, and that's not what I'd call a healthy sales base. Then again, I could be totally wrong about this, that Vampire Diary: The Embrace will sell incredibly well. My tastes aren't always in tune with mass-market America; I still don't see the appeal of angel books, yet they sell like crazy. however, I do feel that I can safely say that the people who are most likely to dislike Vampire Diary: The Embrace are those who are reading this review; this just isn't the kind of book which will appeal to your hardcore horror fan (which is pretty much what you have to be to read something as esoteric as AFRAID).

Vampire Diary: The Embrace is an interesting idea, and as much as I wanted to like it (every time something is hyped as much as this book is -- you'll be seeing ads for it everywhere by the time you read this -- you want it to do well because if it succeeds, it strengthens the genre as a whole), I can't. I'm sure Vampire Diary: The Embrace looks quite nice; now if it only had a little substance to go along with that style. Not Recommended.

Review by Casca (15 Feb 95)

Okay, I'll admit it: I'm a prop junkie. I love the goodies included in boxed sets. Even if it has no bearing to the game, if it's neat, I love it. I'll find some way to work it into the game.

Vampire Diary: The Embrace is one of those items. It's a real diary, with working lock on it. (Want to really frustrate your players? Give them the diary, but not the key. Have them find it. And no, don't allow them to rip it open.)

With the exception of a page of copyright info waaaaay in the back of the book, it looks completely authentic. (If you don't want to spoil the effect, get some double-sided tape and tape the offending page to the thicker liner sheet that faces it. The players won't know the difference.)

It's written from a first-person viewpoint, with neat stuff like doodles, rambling thoughts, spelling errors, even bloodstains. The only problem is that the words and 'stains are quite obviously photostatic copies (is this the right word?) and not the real things, ie, the paper is too perfect -- not warped and stained on both sides, yabbada yabbada. A minor fault, methinks.

It's got two enclosed item, too, which did disappoint me -- not in the quality, which was excellent, but because I was expecting more. Then again, its vampire diary, not scrapbook. Ah well.

Nice treatment of how a mortal would freak out after the embrace without the guidance of a caring sire. Remember this next time a Caitiff is made, Storytellers. Be sure to play up that "Beast I am" bit.

All in all: Nice effect. Great prop to give to a hunter group, especially since it was supposedly sent to the brother of the diary's owner. ("I just got this in the mail from my brother out in California...I need your help.") Maybe a way to jumpstart a Hunters Hunted Chronicle? Especially if one of the players is said brother....

Just get it. It's nifty.

Review by Tim Olivas (16 Apr 95)

Vampire Diary: The Embrace is a book written and illustrated by Robert Weinberg and Mark Rein(dot)Hagen. To quote the book's back cover, "In the shadows of Los Angeles, an ancient vampire courts Auston Jacobson, a night- club bartender. Slowly but surely, Auston succumbs to that dark call. Can he resist the Embrace, the gateway to an eternity of damnation? And will his master's dark command threaten the most beautiful, most perfect love he has ever felt?" This story will apparently form the basis of Aaron Spelling's new show Kindred, the World of Darkness's first endevour into television.

Fans of Nick Bantock's Griffin and Sabine might be interested to know that Embrace's form was inspired by that series. It is bound like an actual diary, with a (non-functional) lock. It also contains one letter and one greeting card. Every page is handwritten and illustrated, as if the viewpoint character, Auston, had scribbled and sketched in it in his spare time.

Unfortunately, the authors fall into the mimetic fallacy: by trying to make their book resemble a "real" diary as much as possible, they subject us to the sort of entries you'd expect to find in the diary of a twentysomething barkeep. "This is the first entry I've written in a while, and I feel pretty much like a jerk writing it. An exhausted, overworked, disgusted JERK." This doesn't make readers feel Auston's problems--it just makes them turn the page.

Similarly, Auston's writing isn't exactly polished prose. He writes in cliches ("...but for her, it's just a game") and banalities ("...if the Menedez brothers can get off scott free, anything is possible"), his only means of emphasis obscenity ("Our chickenshit manager is such a first class dickwad!"), repetition ("I want to scream I want to scream I want to scream" --he can't be all that rattled if he can write it three times), and the way he draws and writes. The last is the most effective device. For example, when he is upset, his handwriting gets shaky and large, and when he thinks his words are cribbed close like notes.

Though the art, like the writing, tries to be too much like the idle work of a young, unremarkable man, some of the images are quite well done. The drawing of a puppet sucking blood from a roach, for example, is charged with emotion. Other drawings are just random, like a full page devoted to a Yoo-hoo bottle...perhaps an attempt to imitate Warhol. :) Most annoying, are the portraits of Claudius and his crowd. They look like comic-book villians of the most cliched kind: fluffy sideburns, Fu Manchu moustaches, dramatic body piercings, and so on. Presumably, these pronounced physical characteristics will help us keep them straight later in the series when it becomes more obvious that they all have exactly the same malevolently alien personality.

Yes, later in the series. Can you doubt it? The ending is left completely in the air. Either this is simply an introduction to the TV show, or there are many more Vampire Diaries (tm) to come. This is not bad in itself; there is nothing wrong with characters carrying over from book to book. However, at the end of Embrace I felt like I had not been told a story but rather the prelude to a story. There is no closure or completion. To provide a counterexample, Bantock's book Griffon and Sabine is the first in a trilogy of books, but its "Twilight Zone" ending makes it possible to read it alone. The same is true of "Star Wars"--it was complete unto itself, though it was also the beginning of a trilogy. Because I was not satisfied with the ending, I have no desire to read more about the characters.

Auston is such a generic choice for a viewpoint character that it is hard to understand why he was written that way. Perhaps Embrace is meant as a kind of bildons roman, wherein the young, innocent hero learns about the cold, hard world. If this is so, perhaps the authors confused "young" and "innocent" with "ignorant" and "bland". Ah, well. He'll play well on TV as the "Kid in over his head" archetype.

I'm going to take a stab at why Embrace doesn't work. Rein(dot)Hagen and Weinberg write fiction the same way they recommend creating characters for V:tM. Unfortunately, what was a massive step forward for role-playing games is still only mediocrity in the field of fiction. I cannot honestly reccomend Embrace as an artistic endevour.

Oh, and just a final note: you gamers will notice a few inconsistancies between book and game. For example, Auston is Embraced as a Ventrue, but has no instinctual preference for a certain kind of blood. It's kind of a pity that the millieu is being watered down.