I’ve just completed the latest in the Fat Vampire series by Johnny B. Truant: Fat Vampire 5—Fatpocalypse.
If you haven’t already experienced any of the Fat Vampire series, you really need to avail yourself of it. The first book is free on all major platforms.
The entire series has consisted of relatively short books, not quite a novel, but not short enough to be what I consider a novella, either. This is the fifth and penultimate installment in the series (for non-word-geeks, that means it’s the second to last one).
Reginald: Reginald IS the fat vampire. He was turned at the age of 38, while vastly and grossly overweight, As a vampire, you become more of what you are. So after turning into a vampire and becoming perpetually immortal, Reginald gained all the incredible strength and speed of an average human being not restricted by obesity. However, Reginald’s mind was always his best quality, and as a vampire it became significantly more so—the fastest and brightest mind, in fact, that had ever existed in the history of the planet, vampire or human.
Nikki: Nikki is Reginald’s opposite, and therefore, obviously, his one true love. She used to work with him at the same office building back when they were both human. But Nikki was already vaguely aware of the vampire population of the world, and she wanted desperately to join them in eternal life. Part of a vampire subculture that goes through extensive physical training before turning (because the body you have when you turn is the body you’re stuck with for eternity) Nikki is physically perfect, incredibly strong and fast, and OH MY GOD SO HORNY. (Descriptions of sex scenes between Nikki and Reginald are some of the comedic highlights of the entire Fat Vampire series).
Maurice: Maurice is Reginald’s maker, the millennia-old vampire who turned Reginald to a vampire out of pity. Of course, he didn’t exactly do Reginald any favors, as it turns out. Maurice was around for Caesar and Jesus, and now wanders the earth as an early-twenties, waifish-looking goth kid who’s actually one of the more powerful vampires in existence, along with his brother Claude.
Claude: Maurice’s brother, another incredibly ancient and powerful vampire. While Claude is much more physically powerful than Maurice, Maurice tends to edge him out slightly in terms of quick thinking and craftiness. Also, Claude is an asshole.
Timkin: Timkin is the Vampire President at the start of this book. He rose to power in Fat Vampire 4. Timkin is a well-motivated but ultimately misguided vampire. He believes that war with humans and vampires is inevitable, and so he wants to make sure vampires come out on top (as opposed to Claude, for example, who just REALLY REALLY REALLY wants to fucking kill people).
SYNOPSIS: Vampires are on the brink of full-on, true, out-and-out war with the humans. At the start of the book, things are in escalated cold war status. Random killings of humans by vampires and vampires by humans are commonplace, but both governments are trying to maintain at least some sort of facade of decency and cooperation. Reginald and crew are searching for a way to prevent the forthcoming apocalypse with minimal bloodshed to both sides, but that seems to be getting harder and harder.
PROS AND CONS: Full disclaimer, I have formatted books for Truant in the past. We’ve never collaborated as authors, but the tiny, red, horned Dave sitting on my shoulder insists that I tell you we have some sort of professional relationship. It doesn’t affect my reviews of his books—in fact, I started working with Truant because I liked his books so much that I started offering to do some admin work for him in print and ebook.
With that out of the way: anyone who knows me well knows that Truant is one of my favorite authors, and possibly my favorite indie author period. (His debut novel, The Bialy Pimps, is my favorite book of the last several years). He writes both individually and in collaboration with another indie author superstar, Sean Platt, and in both “incarnations” Truant’s style and skill shine through quite well.
The Fat Vampire series is an often-hilarious, surprisingly deep, and sneakily dramatic series that has impressed me (and many other readers, judging by its reviews) since its first volume. This one is no exception.
PRO: The humorous element is probably less in Fat Vampire 5 than it has been in any of the preceding books, but that’s entirely appropriate. The book isn’t titled “Fatpocalypse” because it’s all about sweetness and light. And you don’t particularly feel like jokes are missing. They’re appropriate and welcome when they appear, but if he had tried to layer too many more in, it would have detracted greatly from the intensity this book delivered.
PRO: Character development comes to the fore in this volume, but more than character development, Truant develops a lot of RELATIONSHIPS. There are certain relationships that I was completely unaware of, or didn’t realize the importance of until this book. Now, it’s like they’ve always been there, but I fully understand their significance now. For example, the relationship between Maurice and Claude (they’re brothers) was definitely explained before, but in this book that relationship came to the fore, and you got why it was IMPORTANT that they were brothers.
CON: On rare occasions, Truant has a tendency to tell things retrospectively that I believe would better be told more “immediately.” One major plot point fell victim to this in Fat Vampire 5. VERY SLIGHT SPOILER: SKIP THE ITALICIZED SECTION TO AVOID. Reginald and Nikki travel to a far destination, where they are looking for a very important figure in their quest. When they finally find that very important figure, the conversation is told retrospectively. I.e., we hear the cliffnotes version of the conversation, rather than hearing the actual dialogue between Reginald and the important person.
This is not a major detriment to the story. Often times Truant will use the device quite well. But considering how important the scene was to the story, I wanted to hear it in the “immediate voice,” if you will, rather than in summarized fashion.
PRO: Perhaps more than ever before in the series, Fat Vampire 5 illuminates the characters in the series and how unconventional they are. There are nearly no sterotypes in this book. Everyone is a little different, a little bit of an outcast, a little removed from what’s considered “normal” or “acceptable” or “beautiful” in society (whether that society is vampire or human). And as has been discussed by me and other reviewers online, the Fat Vampire series is NOT a fat-bashing series. I think it takes a special sort of delicacy to take a series idea that’s basically “a guy becomes a vampire but it’s funny because he’s fat” and yet manage not to make it a series about how helpless and weak fat people are compared to the rest of us. It could have been really offensive, but it isn’t, with Reginald becoming more important, more able and more self-sufficient with each book in the series. Again, it’s a fine line to walk, and Truant’s steps never falter.
OVERALL RATING: 4.5 out of 5 STARS
Beyond this point I’m going to go into the plot in pretty deep detail, so if you don’t want the book spoiled, you want to steer clear here. If this is as far as you read, I highly recommend that you go pick up the book. You can click on the image above, or click right here in order to go buy it. Those are both affiliate links, so I’ll get about $0.30 if you buy it there (every little bit helps, right?) If you’re bothered by that, first of all, don’t worry: it doesn’t take away from Johnny’s portion of the sale. Second of all, if you hate the idea of affiliate programs in general, just go find it on Amazon’s site yourself. I won’t hate you.
Reginald and crew start off holed up in Maurice’s mansion, waiting for some sort of inciting incident to begin the whole vampire/human war. Despite Reginald’s advanced brain, he can’t figure a way out of their mess.
They’re attacked by humans, who have begun to realize that vampires are real. The humans attack during daytime and manage to kill some of the vampires holed up in Maurice’s mansion before they can retaliate. Maurice and Brian, his monolithic security chief, predictably flatten the humans in response.
Reginald feels spurred to action by the incident, and he glamours Claire, the 12-year-old human oracle, in order to find out how to bring an end to the conflict once and for all. Claire reveals the existence and a possible location for the vampire codex, which they believe to be an ancient tome that predicts how the vampire/human war will end. The only lead they have is that Karl, the head of the European vampire council, may have some insight.
There’s a philosophical discussion about the nature of fate here, which perfectly highlights the “surprisingly philosophical” quality that most of Truant’s books possess. A surface skimmer might be inclined to believe that the Fat Vampire series is one big joke about how ridiculous it would be to be a fat vampire for all eternity. Well, it is that. But discussions like this are the real strength of Truant’s writing. Is fate predestiny, or is it simply a logical conclusion of what we choose to do with our lives?
Reginald and Nikki must travel to see Karl alone. Maurice can’t leave his mansion and wife with the war about to break out for real, and Brian is bound to serve Maurice. Brian also thinks the whole thing is a lot of bullshit, and is very vocal about that belief.
Reginald and Nikki find that the European council has been hit hard by the humans’ Anti-Vampire Taskforce. The council was nearly wiped out by some of the humans’ new advanced anti-vampire weaponry. But Karl escaped and is hiding in Paris. He reveals the existence of a Vampire World Council, who are the ones who may actually be able to point Reginald towarad the codex. Karl is scared and seems content to hide out until the war blows over.
The war erupts while Reginald and Nikki are in Paris. Human governments officially acknowledge the existence of vampires, something they’ve been keeping hidden for a while. Vampires are perfectly poised to strike, and they do so with a vengeance. Human are wiped out in droves.
Escaping in the chaos, Reginald and Nikki travel all the way to the south pole, where the Vampire World Council is hiding. Since the northern hemisphere is experiencing summer, the south pole is in perpetual night, making it a perfect stronghold for the vampires to hide out in. In the south pole, Reginald discovers that Claude and the Annihilists have been working with the Vampire World Council for some time. This means that the worldwide vampire government has been working with Annihilist extremists all along, seemingly cementing the fate of humanity on Earth.
Claude won’t let Reginald and Nikki leave. Instead, he tries to use Reginald’s superior strategic brain to make the vampire conquest of Earth even easier. Reginald bullshits him a bit, seeming to help without actually contributing anything, and meanwhile looking for the vampire seer who supposedly knows where the codex is. All he knows is that the seer is in the south pole somewhere, so whenever he’s not being forced to help Claude, he scours the base looking for the man.
The war goes worse and worse (for humanity) until finally Reginald finds the seer. He looks into his mind and finds the location of the codex: a statue of a fanged angel, hidden somewhere in the United States. He and Nikki incapacitate the seer and make their escape from the south pole base. (SIDE NOTE: This scene is the one that was told in summary, mentioned in my single “CON” above.)
Reginald and Nikki eventually make their way back to America, but it seems like they’re way too late. Humanity is all but wiped out, just a few hundreds of millions of them still alive and being kept as cattle for the new vampire overlords. Maurice and the others have lost all contact, leading Reginald to believe that they’re dead.
Reginald finally finds the fanged angel statue and the vault below it that contains the codex. But before he can open it, Claude and his troopers show up. They allowed Reginald to escape so they could follow him to the codex, their ultimate goal all along. He tries to torture Reginald into opening the vault, but Reginald feigns ignorance about how to do so. Claude stakes Reginald in the neck (not fatal, but extremely damaging), then threatens Nikki’s life.
That’s when Maurice shows up. When Claude staked Reginald, he put his life in enough mortal danger that Maurice as Reginald’s maker was able to hone in on his location and, thanks to the adrenaline surge he got in his need to protect his progeny, fly to their location. In tow is Brian, and together, Maurice, Brian and Nikki make short work of most of the vampire soldiers. But Claude is just as ancient as Maurice, and far more physically powerful than either Maurice or Brian. Their epic fight destroys most of the graveyard, until finally, Claude stakes Maurice in the heart and kills him.
Yeah. I didn’t think Truant would be ballsy enough to do this. It was an extremely emotional death scene. I practically screamed aloud when it happened.
We learn that Maurice created Brian as well as Reginald, because Brian receives his own adrenaline spike and goes after Claude. But Claude, knowing that Brian’s rage has made him even stronger than the ancients, flees the fight. With the bad guys gone, Reginald is finally free to unlock the vault, where he finds…nothing. It’s empty.
There’s little else they can do but pack up and go home to Maurice’s mansion. There was a little bit of a missed opportunity here. I wanted to see the reaction of Maurice’s wife, but we didn’t see it. No one else, even Reginald, would have been as affected by Maurice’s death as Celeste would have been. I think it could have been an incredibly powerful scene.
Reginald, wallowing in self-pity, slowly begins to drift in his mind to the blood bond he’s always shared with Maurice. Soon, he finds himself seeming to be Maurice. The experience is disorienting, until the echoes of Maurice in his mind explain that this was the final piece of the puzzle, the final thing Reginald needed. A willing sacrifice. Pushing further, Reginald finds that he can go all the way back in his bloodline, and then down another one. He can get into Claude’s experiences. He can get into Timkin’s. He can assume the beingness of any vampire he wants to, all the way back to Cain.
So he goes back to Cain, and his own experience with the angels that set the whole vampire/human game in motion. And that’s when Reginald realizes what the codex actually is: it’s random pieces of knowledge scattered throughout the experiences of vampires throughout time, only able to be assembled by the greatest mind that vampire evolution would ever create: Reginald himself. And as he assembles the knowledge, he realizes that the endgame of the war isn’t the destruction of the humans: it’s the destruction of the vampires.
And that’s where we leave off. The plot is the perfect mix of action, humor and serious, serious shit. This is the goddamn apocalypse, and you get that with every page and paragraph. There’s no time for funny little fat jokes about Reginald. Now Reginald’s helplessness is a major liability, holding him back from no-joke saving the world. It creates a definite sense of desperation that lends itself well to the apocalyptic nature of this installment in the series.
Truant has done very well with his latest piece of the Fat Vampire puzzle. And the last piece fits into place in October. I’ll be as sad to see Reginald go as I’m sure I’ll be satisfied with the method of his departure. This is a fantastic series by a masterful author, and I’m looking forward to its conclusion with baited, blood-scented breath.