Vlad: The Last Confession
Orion Publishing Group, 2011
Chris Humphreys’ latest historical fiction novel, Vlad, paints a vivid portrait of the clash between the Eastern Islamic culture of the Turks and the Western Christian culture of Wallachia, what is now modern day Romania. As a high school student I traveled to Romania during two summers with a choir. We toured this beautiful land, pausing in cities, towns and villages to perform a repertoire of classical and American pop tunes. Along the way I toured, if memory serves me, four “authentic” castles of the dreaded Dracula, complete with allusions to his blood sucking and violent character.
Humphreys, thankfully, approaches the story of Vlad Dracula (the “a” meaning son of Dracul) with an integrity that serves the dramatic life of the man and history of the time, as well as the reader. The author could have taken the easy way out, painting Vlad Dracula into a villainous corner, a beast, barely human that would allow us to create some distance from him. Or he could have taken the shocker path of making him a misunderstood saint. Instead, Humphreys very effectively holds the tension of a mere human being facing enormous odds and a man who committed atrocities as a means to an end.
I should note that Vlad is not for the faint of heart. While not glorifying cruelty, Humphreys leaves a reader standing in the space where horrific torture methodologies are performed with excruciating detail. And I don’t use the word excruciating lightly. However, in spite of the human tragedy and depravity on view, I finished the book knowing I could never sanction Vlad’s behaviors, but I could understand how he got to the place of rationally choosing such a path.
What I like about this book: The way Humphreys holds the line between saint and sinner to create a rich, multi-dimensional character of Vlad.
What gives me pause: High cruelty and gore factor, however always done to serve the story.
Recommendation: If you’re the squeamish type you’ll probably not want to read this. For the rest of us, I’d encourage you to go for it. Very well-crafted story.