Aliric: Vantric Prince by Iris Moon

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday, or maybe Wednesday? This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

I found the most confusing book. Super for real this time. But it’s not confusing in a ending-of-2001-a-space-odyssey kind of way. This is a sipping confusion, for connoiseurs. Aliric: Vantric Prince is an urban fantasy, or possibly high fantasy with a few real world details, that may or may not be a coming of age story or a romance, written like the literary equivalent of a municipal flag designed by a committee.

Prince Aliric lives in the palace of the Vantric Kingdom with his mother. One night she is murdered by some kind of mist creature, and when Aliric goes to investigate, he is knocked out. These mist creatures are described as strange to the point of incredulity, despite the fact that Vantrics can also turn into mist. Just to get it out of the way, here is an exhaustive list of things Vantrics can do: turn into mist, materialize objects, run at approximately 440 miles per hour (by my calculation; the book alternates between Metric and Imperial), and become bats. They sleep at night, are injured by sunlight, and their eyes glow funky colors when they’re horny, which would be really fun in Vantric high school and not traumatizing at all.

When Aliric wakes up, he discovers that he’s on death row for killing the queen, because the cops in Vantricland expect to find the killer passed out on the floor next to the victim with a concussion. Absolutely stellar police work. Kind of makes you understand how they managed to pin that murder on Amanda Knox. Oh, I forgot. They’re Italian. The Vantric Kingdom is in the Apennines, near the town of Castelluccio. I know what you’re thinking; is this Volturi fanfiction? But the Volturi are from a small town in Tuscany, while this is a small town in Umbria. Don’t you feel stupid? At first I assumed that calling the Vantrics “Vantric” and not “vampire” was one of those things where zoomers are too cool for existing vocabulary, kind of like how Weight Watchers is called Noom, and trailers are called tiny houses. But no, they’re not vampires because vampires also exist in this story. I’m not really sure why the Vantrics live in Italy, since it’s not clear how Italian they are and most of the story takes place in Canadian Asgard. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Aliric escapes with the help of his late father’s “right hand male” (male and female are used exclusively to refer to men and women, so I guess we’re gender atheists in this universe), and makes it all the way to America, specifically Yachats, Oregon. He’s there because that’s where the vampires are according to “local folklore.” I assume he means Vantric local folklore, and not the scuttlebutt on the streets of Portland. The vampires are supposed to be in Yachats, because that’s where they settled after a war with another race, the Fae, seventy five years ago. Since the book takes place in 1999, this means that Aliric relies on folklore to tell him about things that happened in 1924. Vantrics are immortal, right? And they have books, presumably. It would have been less jarring if I didn’t know exactly when the story takes place, but we get Jack Bauer style time stamps at the beginning of every chapter and subchapter. Usually they are completely irrelevant, and sometimes there are typos. Since I didn’t know they were just there for vibes when I started reading, the first time I ran across one of these mistakes I wracked my brain trying to reconcile the unacknowlegded time travel subplot.

The bulk of the story revolves around the budding relationship between Aliric and Genesis Amelia Rodrigues, a half-Fae woman with a mysterious past, who is also inherently awesome at everything, and their journey to live with the Fae in southwestern Canada. The realm of the Fae, known as Ashintar, is a combination of fantasy elements from Tolkienian elves to Celtic brownies, and becomes the young couple’s new home as they figure their shit out. Without spoiling too much, the long arc for both characters is about finding a new home and new family, without needing to wrap up the crisis that set the whole story in motion in the first place. It’s a little anticlimactic, but it’s possible it’s intentional. I have a hard time telling with this book what’s intentional.

The writing style is reminiscent of what I like to call By The Way Gothic, in which every sequence is painfully bloated with extraneous detail, much of which never pays off or is repeated from a previous scene. You’re familiar with this from those classic novels where your ninth grade English teacher turns their chair backwards and says that Brahm Stoker was the OG Billie Eilish or some crap, but every page of the book is “and then Lord Flappyminge dusted his antique bust of Cicero, which adequately-craniumed readers will recall he acquired during one of his many uneventful trips to the Dinaric Alps, all the while going over the list of his other possessions, which include…” and by the second chapter you’ve sworn a blood oath to never trust an English teacher again. Iris Moon compounds the problem by explaining things in reverse, such as telling us that Vantrics can turn into mist only after our protagonist is baffled by a creature made of mist. More forgivable is the fact that she probably speaks English as a second language. The systematic fragments using participles as main verbs are not ordinary L1 English mistakes. Normally you go to Hell for making fun of people for not speaking English flawlessly (I mean, Jesus wept, look at me; I’m one night of restless sleep away from writing like Tommy Wiseau after a ministroke). But in combination with everything else, the fact that so many phrases are slightly off, and so many sentences don’t quite parse just makes the book difficult to slog through.

I haven’t even gotten to the sex scenes yet. Obviously there are sex scenes. At this point I’m surprised that HVAC handbook I read a while ago didn’t have gratuitous snu-snu shoehorned into it between the duct sizing chart and the extended job interview questions. The middle part of the book is largely dedicated to Genesis and Aliric making the vampire with two backs, and it follows the trend of doing too much and too little. I had to start skimming when I go to the line “I am going to lick your sweet nectar now.” On the one hand, this is the sort of direct communication we should be normalizing in sex. On the other hand, fuck that noise. Maybe all the dark romance I’ve been reading has led my subconscious to believe that true romance comes with a police report.

There are so many questions that ran through my mind while I read this book. Why does Aliric pick the pseudonym Jensen Jorgensteen to be inconspicuous in rural Italy? Do the Fae have Canadian citizenship? One question I doubt I will ever be able to answer about Aliric: Vantric Prince is whose fantasy this is. The “Silver Skeeter” trope of making the Vantric inherently awesome at whatever the moment demands feels like an ordinary teen power fantasy. But there are too many abrupt changes in tone to say with confidence that that’s what it is. There are five chapters in a row dedicated to parental bliss, and the perspectives in the sex scenes are all over the place. I know who this book is for, ultimately: the author. I don’t mean that as a dig. Everybody has a book in them that no one else will get, and that book deserves to be on Amazon like all the others. It’s just hard to pretend I’m offering useful advice to would-be readers when I myself have no idea what I just allowed into my eye holes. I keep making books sound awful and then recommending them, but honestly I think a book that makes your brain skip like a loose CD player in an Egyptian taxi can be a very rewarding experience. If you’re looking for something different, Iris Moon’s debut novel is ten dollars on Kindle.

If I could turn into a bat, I would do it to avoid paying taxes.

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