The First Blood by Sire Cédric
Journeys are rather odd enterprises. For generations before the invention of modern forms of transport, most people stayed in the same area all their lives. So long as there was food and the means to sustain life, there was no need to move unless some annoying man with delusions of leadership came along recruiting an army or asking for volunteers to populate a newly founded city with vague promises of a better life. Even today, with all the benefits of modern transport, few people actually move around significantly. They establish homes and familiarise themselves with the neighbourhood. Apart from the occasional holiday, they stay put. So when it comes to the writing of two books, there’s a choice to be made. In reality, most authors prefer to stay on ground they know well. This can be purely thematic. There are many ways in which to replay tropes of love and hate, redemption and revenge. Or it can be the continuation of the story involving the same key characters. In The First Blood by Sire Cédric (Publishers Square, 2013) translated by Anne Trager (the power behind Le French Book) from Le Premier Sang and distributed in English by Open Road, we’re following the latter path. Of Fever and Blood was the first supernatural thriller featuring Inspectors Eva Svärta and Alexandre Vauvert. This continues their story although, in real terms, it’s more Eva Svärta’s story. Think of this pair of novels as her personal journey.
In some ways, this is a slightly leaner and more elegant plot than the first. Of Fever and Blood more obviously sets out in the style of Clive Barker to produce a number of set-pieces in which the blood flows and a sense of horror emerges as if by main force. This sequel plays the game of consequences. In confronting and defeating the evil, there were unintended side effects. Such is always the way for evil comes in many forms and lurks in shadows only dimly glimpsed. Our couple have now returned to their jobs. Separated by physical distance and her fear of relationships, Eva obsessionally continues her investigation of the events leading up to the death of her sister. The spark struck with Alexandre Vauvert flickers uncertainly, leaving her colleagues in Paris shaking their heads sadly. A chance for her to grow more human is being lost.
Then comes a call to arms. A drug dealer in one of the Parisienne sink estates has begun to act oddly. Eva and a colleague go to spy out the land only to find his top storey flat bursting into flames with him inside it. In Toulouse, Alexandre Vauvert is trying to track down a missing man and runs into supernatural opposition to his quest. Initially, when he calls Eva’s phone and leaves voicemail pleas for help, she ignores him. But slowly a link emerges between the two cases and their partnership must resume.
So here comes the theme. Any individual with even the slightest ambition when young, dreams of bettering him or herself. For most, these hopes and fantasies can never be realised. People lack the dedication to work on their weaknesses and build on their strengths. But here we meet a group of five who feel they can really push the boundaries. Initially, they drive themselves through barriers by peer pressure. Then comes the crunch and only one stands out in front, striving to pull the others on. One lags behind, increasingly sceptical that the benefits will outweigh the costs. Although it’s a trite way of framing the issue, the Spiderman version runs, “With great power comes great responsibility.” So to whom is the responsibility owed? If five with great power swear an oath, does that bind them or can a promise be displaced if a higher duty emerges? Perhaps, in the Kantian style of thought, Google’s imperative corporate slogan is right, “Don’t be evil!”
We start off as this question suddenly becomes the group’s sole preoccupation. Some had sought redemption for past sins, but now the threat of revenge proves irresistible as the first of the group falls and there’s collateral damage to the family of one other. As with any police force, the French believe in the duty to protect and serve. With lives in danger, the police cannot stand idly by. The problem, however, is the failure of the most senior officers to acknowledge the reality of the supernatural. Since their denial is invincible, this leaves our two lower ranking heroes with the task of confronting the dangers and saving as many as possible. The result is a supernatural thriller of terrific pace. From the first page, there’s no chance to pause for breath as the situation growing increasingly menacing. First individually, our heroes must fight for their lives. When they meet up again, they are finally honest with each other. Perhaps this means Eva can allow Alexandre to stand by her side and not feel guilty. The result is a genuinely great climax with everything left poised for Sire Cédric to continue the journey in La mort en tête. It may not be a fair thing to say, but I think The First Blood better than Of Fever and Blood. This is probably only because of the way an already great story is developing. This opinion should reinforce the usual warning that you should not read this book first. Eva Svärta has begun to move from a self-imposed isolation to a position of greater emotional vulnerability. So unless you understand precisely what happened in the first volume, you will not appreciate the significance of many events in this and the overall experience will be less satisfying.
You should not be surprised that The First Blood or Le Premier Sang has been nominated for the Prix de l’Embouchure (for credibility as a police procedural) and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire (France’s top prize for fantasy literature). It’s also a Book d’Or (a Gold Book). It deserves equal recognition now it’s been so well translated into English.
For a review of the first in the series, see Of Fever and Blood.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.