Written by: Mack Moyer
After reading some preliminary reviews of B.K. Raine’s Blood Toy, I was excited. Here I thought I was getting a vampire novel.
Instead I got a poignant meditation on abusive relationships.
Diane is our prototypical but flippantly likeable badass vampire hunter. She’s good at vamp slaying, or so she thinks, until she’s given a brutal reality check by Desallador, an older and more powerful blood sucker.
Desallador wants Diane as his titular blood toy, an emotional and sexual punching bag. Thus begins the gut churning relationship between the two.
One of my gripes with rape in fiction is how authors use it in a lazy attempt to get me to root for a character, or else reduce that character – almost always female – into a quivering mess.
Blood Toy avoids this tiresome and offensive trope. The novel’s approach to this violence reminds me of feminist Susie Bright’s essay, Rape Scenes, during which Bright details her own rape and her emotional response to it, including how others might view Bright’s response as weak or subservient to the patriarchy.
Obviously I’m not trying to equate a vampire story to a real life tragedy, but Diane’s reaction to Desallador’s violence is different than what we’re used to. Despite her resistance, she discovers that she might be attracted to Desallador, even aroused by what he does to her. Her subsequent struggles to come to terms with her feelings are where Raine’s novel resonates most, albeit painfully.
Bright writes in her essay – in agonizing but, for her, perhaps cathartic detail – how she eventually pleasured herself to a rape fantasy. It was uncomfortable and scary but Bright was honest. She refused to be shoehorned into a certain emotional state after her attack. (Clearly rape victims come to terms with their experiences in their own ways. If you judge them for it, you’re probably an asshole.)
For all the nuance in Diane’s relationship with Desallador, Blood Toy curiously settles things with a brawl.
I’m not necessarily opposed to supernatural fist fights, even between the characters presented here but I thought the rumble could have waited until a sequel.
Blood Toy did become frustrating because we keep meeting more characters. For a novel under 300 pages, it’s got a big cast.
Desallador is an excellent bad guy – a psychopath of Ramsay Bolton proportions – and he would have been enough for me. Then we meet three more vampires, plus another with some moral gray areas, a dead witch and a demon who might be a Biblical character.
I had to keep flipping back to remember the connections between these characters, which got tiresome. It also felt out of place because the focus of the story had previously focused on Diane and Desallador.
It wasn’t bad, it just felt like two different books by the halfway point. This coupled with the overpopulated cast knocked the rating down a bit.
Blood Toy will appeal to vampire lovers. Even for non-vamp fans, the devastating yet intriguing happenings between Diane and Desallador make this novel worth your cash.