Book Review: Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth

One day you’re boinking the President’s daughter, and the next you’re the unwitting partner of an honest to goodness vampire, who just happens to moonlight (get it?) as a secret agent/weapon for the United States Government. That is the unenviable position 25-year old Zach Barrows finds himself in Christopher Farnsworth’s action/horror novel “Blood Oath”, which made news recently when it sold film rights to producer Lucas Foster (“Law Abiding Citizen”, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”). A movie adaptation is forthcoming.

The vampire’s name is Nathaniel Cade, and thanks to a magic spell from a Louisiana witch, he’s been at the service of POTUS for the last 140 years. Cade is less James Bond and more Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy”, in that he’s an undead/supernatural creature fighting for the good guys. It’s all thanks to a boozing but forward-thinking Andrew Johnson, the 7th President of the United States. Back in the day, Johnson realized that having a vampire at his beck and call (his own little supernatural “nightmare pet”, as Cade is often called) to fight against all those dangerous and “mythical” creatures of the night (basically, all those legends and myths are real in the world of “Blood Oath”), might not be such a bad asset to have around.

Cade’s vampire world is introduced through the eyes of Zach, a political wunderkind with just the right shade of ethics (or lack thereof), who is plucked out of the Oval Office and forced into the job of assisting Cade as he investigates the various supernatural problems that arises. Apparently lots of really, really bad stuff arises, everything from underground reptiles to aliens to Frankenstein monsters. Because Cade is immortal (stakes through the heart, decapitations, sunlight, crosses, and holy water still work like a charm, though), he needs a new human partner every 40 years or so. His last partner is named Griff, an old-timer who hangs around to help Zach become acclimated to his new job. There is a great, tragic contrast between Griff and Cade: as Griff’s mortality closes in on him like an icy fist, Cade’s existence continues unchanged, with the younger, new partner essentially the physical manifestation of that division. His partners grow old and leave (or die off), but he stays forever the same – and alone.

The book’s Big Bad is an immortal doctor named Konrad, the inspiration for the Frankenstein legend, one of those physically unthreatening Mad Scientist types that just begs to be punched in the face, but always seems to get away with stuff because, well, the book needs him to in order to prolong the conflict. Lurking in the background are some Middle Eastern terrorists planning to unleash some diabolical plan on the Homeland, though they seem like an afterthought. Conspiracies abound in “Blood Oath”, with shadowy villains exposing themselves as Cade and Zack’s investigation deepens. About one-quarter in, the book introduces a seemingly omnipresent organization called the Shadow Company, a cross between the Illuminati and Wolfram and Hart from Joss Whedon’s TV show “Angel”. The Shadow Company is set up as an ongoing foil for Cade, because it’s clear “Blood Oath” was always intended to be the first of a series of novels. And because Farnsworth is just setting up the world and the players with “Blood Oath”, it results in a rather unsatisfying conclusion that leaves, in my opinion, one too many plot threads dangling.

As for the movie version, Cade is supposed to be a 140-year old vampire trapped in the physical appearance of a 20-year old, but no doubt his screen age will be changed when the film lands its male lead. It’s probably a wise idea to age Cade for the movie, as Zack is already 25-years old, so there needs to be that visual separation between the two main characters onscreen. And frankly, haven’t we all gotten enough of those fresh-faced vampires ala the “Twilight” kids? The other juicy parts are Tania, a young female vampire with vibrant sex appeal, and Helen Holt, a confident, evil Shadow Company agent obsessed with immortality. Think Lilah Morgan from “Angel”, or Tess Mercer from “Smallville”, except ready and willing to get down and nasty to achieve her goal.

There are other changes I would make for the movie. The book interweaves its fictional history with real history to varying degrees of success. It is set in a world where 9/11 happened and the Iraq War continues to rage, but there are also aliens plotting in underground caverns and werewolves roam the countryside. It all feels very incongruent. “Blood Oath’s” America has alien-tech planes that can get you from California to Washington D.C. in a matter of minutes, and vampire secret agents can track a target in a major city just by scent alone, but a dozen amateurs from the Middle East with boxcutters can still take down the Towers under everyone’s noses? As more of “Blood Oath’s” fictional and fantastical worlds are revealed and clashes, incorporating the terrorist success of 9/11 just feels so gratuitous.

It’s easy to see why Hollywood is hot to turn the book into a movie. It just lends itself to adaptation, and though it’s mostly familiar and not altogether original in its supernatural elements, there are enough new twists and novel ideas here to jumpstart a new action-adventure franchise. Although it’s a horror novel, Farnsworth doesn’t seem especially interested in making the book scary, and if anything, it’s more of an action-adventure story where the lead just happens to be a vamp. There is one possible scary sequence in the whole book, and that’s when Cade relates the events that led to his becoming a vampire. That section does lend itself to a horror movie, though the rest don’t even come close, or tries. With the world that Farnsworth has created, there is no limit to the creatures/dangers that Cade could end up fighting on the big screen. This is definitely a franchise in the making, much like Guillermo Del Toro’s ongoing “Hellboy” series.

Blood Oath
By Christopher Farnsworth
Putnam Adult, 2010