4.75* which easily rounds up to 5*
I'll put the niggles first, there were two minor anachronisms, which my inner editor isn't able to ignore entirely. They are the reason why it's just 4.75 and not 5 out of the box:
The monicker "kerosene" was coined ~1850 with its industrial invention and mass usage, 70 years later. The term "alpha" for anything but the more literal "the beginning", particularly for use in ranking, be it humans or animals, began being used only in the mid-20th-century.
I'm certain a specialist editor for historical content would have caught these. Else the book was clean, I found no typos or homonyms or other problems of the technical side and the author's prose, like so far every time, was easy, fluid, engaging and elegant. It's so nice being able to say this, because it's a relief and very rare.
Sooooo, with that to the meat! Be aware from here onwards there are MINOR SPOILERS (I spoiler-tagged the big one)!
I was enormously impressed by this book, and not a little envious.
First important thing: THIS IS NOT AT ALL FLUFFY! No glittering, virginal vampires here like in Stefenie Meyer's books, no eternal cutesy teens or twens as in Buffy. Emphatically NO! You get bitter, harsh, sadistic monsters, and even the "good" ones have no conscience and would kill at the drop of a hat. You get fanatics to whom a human life is nothing, and Eros is back in the gore as well! This is as close to the best of the original tales as please. To me it felt like a cross of Dracula and Interview with the Vampire
The second thing a reader will have to know is that Nicholas is an eunuch, and one so brilliantly written that the sex scenes, especially the early ones, sent me for a while to the bunk, so to speak. They sizzled, and that's not something I say easily, as those who regularly read my reviews will know! T. Baggins has the gift of writing awkward, first-time, painful or chagrined sex with such a blatantly discomfort-hungry stare that it sets me on fire, and as I happen to know others like me, who enjoy torturous moments.
The torture, ah, the torture! T. Baggins knows how to write this, and it's darker than dark. I started drooling the moment I realised she would be making use of the indestructible paintoy, who would perforce put himself back together regardless how much he was hurt. And gloriously it was written realistically, quite unlike Bloodraven, which was both unemotional, telling more than showing, giving no insight into what was happening. Not so here! Some of the images the author conjures here were... wonderfully depraved and exciting! Horrific in the classic sense, taking me effortlessly back to the serious frissons I suffered as a child when watching horror movies too much for me.
The people were no less compelling. Lovely Nicholas, so broken, so devoid of hope, somber Bancroft, touching in his quest for his soul, yet icy cold else at times. Martha, who I loved dearly the first time I met her, a female so well-written as to not so easily be found in m/m. In fact all the females in this book where very real, written with such compassion, knowledge and goodwill, that they make this a completely different reading experience from the majority of m/m romances: wholesome, not angry at women, not misogynic. And Sebastian, well, Sebastian was frightening. Just as I would expect the villain to be. Frightening.
The tale itself is complicated, so a reader starting on this journey here should not expect to get the usual shallow romance fare. Don't skip what you may initially just think is exposition or background info! It's important you take it as what it is: a story taking place in several different eras! If you aren't willing to engage with a story which takes you through a few real twists and turns, then this book may not be for you. I was overjoyed to be intellectually challenged in an m/m romance, and that without it being pretentious.
Lastly, the spin on vampires here is not unheard of, but it comes together in a totally own and nicely working manner, which even explains some esoteric lore and conventions about the species. The author creates her own world of vampires, goes about it in a really clever way, especially how she juxtaposes it with Nicholas utter faith in science, and the showdown had me on the edge of my chair. For those in doubt, there's even a HEA/HFN, though I could also have done with a more bittersweet ending
This was a wonderful book to read: clever, twisted, horrific, deeply erotic, laden with torture of the mind and the body (though not drowned with it, a mistake so many authors make!) and a eunuch, damn, a wonderfully written eunuch!
Recced for anyone with my predilections! Not for the feeble of heart. This packs a real punch.