“That’s true for adults, too; after all we’re just the warped remains of imperfectly loved children. None of us gets the perfect love we ought, but maybe that’s what life is for, to give us time to collect it in bits and pieces, a little here, a little there. Maybe we’re supposed to put it together ourselves slowly.”
The God of Endings by Jacqueline Holland is a story about vampires, centered on the character of Anna, a child in 1830s New York whose small village is convinced that the recent spate of illness is caused by the prince of darkness and his minions. When her father, a stoneworker who carves the gravestones of the village’s citizens, succumbs to the illness, she is rescued by her step-grandfather—who turns her into a vampire.
Anna isn’t a traditional vampire, however. Not deeply sensual or extraordinary violent, but a person who is seemingly impossible to kill and survives on blood (usually, as time passes, cat blood. Which kind of grossed me out, honestly). She is sent away from America to continue growing up—her body stops aging once she is no longer a child—to live in a small cottage in the forests of Eastern Europe. This section reads like a bit of a fairy tale, with a wise old woman woman, Piroska, with some witch-like qualities and the two other boys she has also adopted, Vano, who is kind and filled with a different sort of wisdom, and Ehru, who is also a vampire.
It is here that Anya (her name changes several times throughout the novel) learns of Czernobog, the god of endings, who pursues her throughout her many years.
As we read Anya’s story through time, we also read her contemporary story (if the 1980s counts as contemporary? Yes. Yes, of course it does.), wherein she has returned to the United States and is running a preschool for very small artistic children. One of them, Leo, begins to tug at her heart, and she becomes more and more involved in his family’s drama—but meanwhile her usually well-controlled hunger is becoming insatiable.
I really enjoyed much of this novel. I especially loved the historical sections of the book, and wished I knew more of Piroshka’s story (that could, I imagine, be its very own novel). I loved the writing style and the way the story was told.
There were some plot holes that ate at me a bit. How did she feed herself when she was living in the village near Mont Blanc during the war, or in Alexandria after? And the way the loss of one character’s baby felt medically incorrect really jumped out at me.
The main point of the novel was Anna/Anya/Colette trying to figure out what it means to live the life that has been created for her. In a sense she lives on the margins of her own life, and it is the tug with Leo that reminds her of another child, Halla, which forces her to at last examine what she wants out of this world. She has struggled for her entire vampiric existence with the concept of living for eternity; it is a gift she wants to reject but she cannot figure out how to die. A memory of Halla reminds her that there are two types of eternity: that of nothing, and that of everything. Colette’s work to figure out this tension is the main thread of the contemporary part of the story.
When I finished it, I really had to stop and wonder how I felt about The God of Endings. I really did love the reading experience, but the main conflict of Colette’s life felt…well, remarkably similar to the main conflict in the other vampire novel I read this year, Vampire Weekend. Eternal beings working through their conflict over being eternal. What can I, a mortal, take from that?
I pondered for a bit before writing this review, but I think what I am taking from it is that the shortness of mortal life is what makes it sweet. And that I still have things to do in whatever time I have left. (For example, now I really want to hike Mont Blanc!)