The other day I mentioned that I was about to read Ted Dekker’s Immanuel’s Veins, his latest book. Well, I”ve done that now. I finished it last night, after about three hours of almost nonstop reading. Which, at the very least, says something about the compelling nature of the book.
The story: In the late eighteenth century, Russian captain and loyal warrior for his empress Toma Nicolescu journeys to Moldavia under strict orders to protect the noble Cantemir family. To his dismay, duty-bound Toma finds himself falling heads over heels in love with Lucine, one of the Cantemir daughters. To make matters worse, the inhabitants of the nearby Castle Castile are eerie Russian aristocrats led a suspicious Vlad van Valerik.
First of all, you can probably tell what’s up with the creepy Russians straightaway. Yeah, the story’s going where you think it is, and from the first bloodletting you can probably tell where the story will end up.
It’s how it gets there that’s the interesting part.
Like Dekker’s Kiss and Burn, Immanuel’s Veins makes generous use of romance as not only a plot device but as the endgame. Immanuel’s Veins is not a vampire story with some romance thrown in but a romance with a dash of vampires. Like those two previous novels, and to a lesser extent most of Dekker’s earlier work, Immanuel’s Veins uses romantic love as a metaphor for God’s love. Although I understand the reasoning behind this, I can’t help but think that Dekker trying so hard to portray the boundless love of God through ordinary mortals at times comes off as simply melodramatic. Of course, it could just be me; typically the only romances I really like are the ones with laugh tracks.
Tendency to melodrama aside, Immanuel’s Veins is a gripping story full of love, redemption, and hope (well yes, vampires too). Toma’s character is well-developed and interesting enough to carry the story. His and Lucine’s love story isn’t just the run-of-the-mill boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl. In fact, it reminded me of Heaven’s Wager (if you haven’t read it, it’s based on the biblical story of Hosea and his wife).
I did find it rather unbelievable that the mother of the Cantemir family allowed her daughters to traipse about the country with any man who caught their passing fancy. I suppose such a woman could exist, of course, but wondering about it pulled me out of the story world. Also, some of the verbage seemed a bit too modern for the period (one of the Castle Castile clan even goes so far as to use the term ‘party-pooper’, and while it clearly wasn’t par-for-the-course vocabulary, its usage is never explained). As for the vampires, I suppose it’s up to you whether that’s a plus or a minus.
Longtime Dekker fans will find lots to pique their interest, with numerous tie-ins to his Books of History Chronicles (including mentions of St. Thomas the Beast-Hunter, Blood Books, and Shaitaiki).
All in all, I’d recommend Immanuel’s Veins with reservations. If the thought of bloodsucking makes you queasy, this book probably isn’t for you. Even though the ultimate message is powerful and so true, there is some blood and sensuality to wade through on the way there. Dekker’s books are written with the aim of attracting readers who do not profess Christianity, and therefore tend to be rather edgy (for Christian fiction, that is, and tame for regular thrillers). If you’re a fan of Frank Peretti or Eric Wilson, you’d probably enjoy Immanuel’s Veins.
If you’ve read Immanuel’s Veins and are wondering where to go from here, I’d recommend Dekker’s Circle Trilogy and/or his Paradise Novels (Showdown, Saint, and Sinner).
Note: It occurred to me that I ought to add another caveat. I mentioned in passing that the book has ‘some sensuality’. Let me rephrase that: Immanuel’s Veins is sensuous, as in it drips sensuality the way Dracula’s fangs drip blood. Lust and promiscuity are negatively portrayed, but they are portrayed nonetheless. This is my biggest beef with the book. I get that it’s supposed to show a difference between lust and love, and that vampires are traditionally understood to represent sin, and sexual sin in particular. But still. Must we wallow in it to understand it and flee from it? I don’t think so.