I read about Baltimore on Jenclair’s blog untold ages ago, and I put it on my list, but I didn’t leave myself a little note explaining what it was about. This is something I do now, but I didn’t always, and so when I would be at the library looking at my list of books, I never checked out Baltimore because I had forgotten anything I ever read about its plot. Fortunately I was incredibly bored recently and took the time to go back through my book list, look up the reviews, and leave myself teeny little plot synopses.
Baltimore is set in and around the first World War – soldier Henry Baltimore, the only survivor of a Hessian massacre, sees strange dark creatures feeding on his dead soldiers, and he wounds one of them. This small act unleashes a plague of vampirism upon the world, so devastating that even the War pales into insignificance in comparison. Some time later, three friends of Baltimore are summoned by Baltimore to meet him at a particular inn on a particular day. They each tell their stories of Henry Baltimore, and of the dark, supernatural things they have encountered in their own lives. The story goes on, circling closer and closer to the final confrontation between Henry Baltimore and the vampire he wounded, the vampire that started the plague.
If you like Victorian fairy tales, you’ll like this book. At the end, Mike Mignola acknowledges his debt to those stories, and I realized that’s what this book exactly reminded me of – that slightly unreal, thoroughly creepy way of writing, with lavish, lingering descriptions of the evil the protagonists are encountering. It reminded me of things like Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales, and Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”, and of course Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I loved the illustrations. They were small, simple, black-and-white drawings, very understated, often just little pieces of pictures (a chimney of the house, a close-up on one cross in the cemetery), and they provided a beautiful contrast to the lush prose.
If I could have made a change, it would have been to take out the excerpts from Baltimore’s diary that describe how he saved a small Romanian town from vampires. I recently read Trish’s book review of a book called Serena, in which she talked about the creation of negative space around a character; and I thought that this book did that to great effect with Baltimore’s character. Baltimore’s story starts off the book, but then the reader doesn’t hear from him directly for quite a while; instead, the three characters talk about their encounters with Baltimore, which provides a lot of insight into what he’s been through since the vampire-wounding incident. I think it would have been great to continue it until the climactic scene (which, I have to say, is a little disappointing), only then giving us Baltimore’s point of view again. The Romanian vampires incident would have been fine if Baltimore hadn’t been narrating it himself, but as it was, it messed up a literary device that was working nicely.
A creepy, atmospheric book. Other reviews (if I missed yours, let me know):