Scary movies and spine-tingling tales... everyone craves a few chills this time of year. But what to choose...
When it comes to movies, it all boils down to how serious or campy you like your horror, plus your tolerance for gore (none at all, stick with the classics; the bloodthirstier the better, anything since the late-1970s should work). Add some popcorn, a significant other or a few friends, and you’re set.
If you’re in the mood for snuggling up under a pile of blankets, alone in the dark, with nothing but a small lamp, a mug of cocoa, and your cat or dog by your side, though, only a good book will do. All the usual names--Poe, Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, or some Stephen King if like your monsters on the modern side--are there for the choosing, of course.
But what if you crave something a little... different? That’s how I was feeling, so a little digging around on Amazon later, and I’d found the “purrfect” tale for a blustery night with my boycat snuggled up on my legs... the deliciously-titled (and beautifully-illustrated) Shadow of the Vampuss, by Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov.
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The best stories often have a romance at their core, and such is the case here. Studly young ginger tomcat Jonathan Harker has known the lovely Mina, a Korat blessed with stunning green eyes, since kittenhood... and has loved her nearly as long. The only obstacle to their being wed is Jonathan’s meager savings, as he has only recently passed the bar exam and has yet to make his fortune at the prestigious legal firm of Slaughter and Fluffkins.
Then, one day, what seems like the answer to their most-fervent feline prayers arrives, in the form of a mysterious communique requesting Jonathan’s immediate presence in far-off Transylvania so that he might oversee the important legal matters of a wealthy--but reclusive--client (who is looking to purchase a house right there in Kitby).
Mina voices her concerns, but Jonathan insists she has nothing to worry about; a month or so with the client, and they’ll have the nest egg needed to marry. And so, bag in paw, he hops in a carriage and sets off.
It proves to be a long, uncomfortable, and lonely journey--over rough terrain, in bad weather, with strange sounds all around. Still, the intrepid Jonathan is not dissuaded. Not even the gasps and horrified expressions he receives when he stops at a Transylvanian inn to rest one evening--and happens to mention his destination to the blue smoke Persian innkeeper (and all the other patrons, too, as felines have excellent hearing)--can sway him from his goal. He does, however, graciously accept the smelly catnip charm pressed upon him by the innkeeper’s kind tabby wife as he’s about to depart the next morning, and pockets (then quickly forgets) the ancient book she urges him to read, The Book of Nosfelinu.
When Jonathan finally arrives at the castle (after a perilous ride up the side of a mountain), even he begins to question the wisdom of this endeavor, however. The castle itself is an immense, starkly-imposing place... but of greater concern is his elderly host, a peculiar, wrinkled Sphynx who introduces himself as Count Scratchula. (Something, Jonathan fears, is not quite right about the old fellow.)
Still, he has a job to do, and the sooner he completes it, the sooner he’ll find himself back in Mina’s warm embrace, so he sets about getting all the proper documents in order as expediently as possible. But then, when everything is signed and their business is seemingly concluded, something bizarre happens... Count Scratchula insists Jonathan stay a bit longer, and--although the young lawyer was sure he wanted nothing more than to return to his home and Mina--he finds himself strangely compelled to do precisely as the Count says.
As the days--then weeks--go by, Jonathan can no longer recall why it had seemed so urgent that he leave... particularly not when he’s ensconced in the lavish bedchamber to which he retires each night, there to dream such strange and fantastical dreams. (He certainly isn’t performing any sort of legal duties for the Count; in fact, he doesn’t even know if the Count is actually at Castle Scratchula much of the time, and instead he’s often attended by the Count’s strange court of Sphynx ladies-in-waiting.)
|Wateber duz dat tuxy boycat haz??|
Meanwhile, back in Kitby, faithful Mina frets about her beloved’s absence, and expresses concern to her confidante, the stunning, golden-brown tabby Siberian, Lucy (herself engaged to the dashing tuxedo kitty, Lord Arthur), who chuffs at Mina’s fears. (Little do either of them know how right Mina is to be afraid... nor how wise Lucy would be, to show more caution with the stranger she has secretly befriended...)
Can Jonathan escape Count Scratchula’s taloned grip and mesmerizing gaze? Will Mina ever see her dearest again? And what of innocent, trusting Lucy--can she be saved from herself? Only with a generous dose of feline “purrspicacity” (hehe)--and the help of one Dr. Von Helsing, a ruggedly-handsome, cameo tabby Maine Coon scientist (and practioner in the black arts)--do any of them stand a chance of escaping the horrors... with some of their nine lives in tact.
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Shadow of the Vampuss is unique in the crowded field of vampire tales, a delightfully-clever take on Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula. It doesn’t come across as silly or contrived (a niggling fear I had before cracking the cover), nor does the novelty get old before reaching the end (an even-bigger fear I had, given my own inability to read more than half-way through books such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).
|So dis iz da famoos Von Helsing, huh? No wunder Kate Beckinsale lieks 'im...|
Instead, Shadow of the Vampuss sticks closely to the original work while also showing a genuine understanding of felines (their movements, thought processes, behaviors, etc.); the writing is entertaining and humorous.
The artwork is the real draw (no pun intended) here, though; stunning images offered in splendid full-color line every other page (often bleeding onto the opposite page, too), making this a glorious Gothic tale (with a twist!) not to be missed.
GlamKitty (& Boycat) Catnip Mousie Ratings: Shivering Mousies Galore! :D