Author: Leanbh Pearson
Publisher: Black Hair Press
Page Count: 157
Rep: LGBTQ+, M/M
***Spoiler note***: Because there is not 'hide spoiler' function on this blog, I've made spoiler text the same(ish) colour as the background. If you want to read the spoilers, simply highlight the section to read the text.
Bluebells by Leanbh Pearson is a compelling mix of paranormal romance meets dystopian alternate history. Set in Australia during WWI, it is a story of survivors and those left behind as they grapple with love, loss and betrayal.
Anna is our protagonist, a young woman living in rural Australia on her parents' farmstead. Drought has decimated her hometown as the war overseas has waged, and any hope that her brother will return from the war has all but dried up. Until a mysterious—and oh so hungry—stranger comes into Anna’s life promising to lead her to her lost brother.
We’re also privy to a second point of view from Nicholas, our mysterious stranger, who is a vampire desperately clinging to his humanity—and losing. As a lover of both Anna’s brother and then Anna herself, his character is a curious mix of the modern vampire love interest combined with the ruthless monster of old; his vampirism harks back to the mythology of vampires as creatures of unbridled desire, passion and bloodlust. In many ways he is ruled by his urges and instincts, even as the remnants of his humanity wars against it. He is plagued by the guilt and betrayal of his first love, Anna’s brother, while at the side time lusting after his new one, Anna.
A fascinating aspect of the story are the two types of romantic love on display. The first between Nicholas and Anna’s brother, Peter, which is told in flashbacks. This relationship comes across as very human, almost cosy as they find solace in each other through the trauma of war. Their relationship is endearing, heartfelt, and Pearson paints them as caring deeply for one another. Meanwhile, in the present part of the story, we also see the second relationship start up between Anna and Nicholas, which comes across as much more vampiric, driven by lust and hunger (and later guilt and longing for what each has lost). ***Spoilers ahead***It’s as if with the death of Peter, the human part of Nicholas has died with him.***Spoilers end***
Meanwhile, in the story’s backdrop we have some fascinating worldbuilding, from an alternative WWI where both the Allied and Axis armies have been ravaged by a plague known as the Red Fever to militaries recruiting vampires to fight among their front line ranks. We also have Sydney, now known as the Burning City, for reasons that are not quite clear, but likely related to the Red Fever spreading across the world from the European front line.
It’s hard to talk about standout moments without giving away some major spoilers, but but one thing I loved was seeing Nicholas' character come full circle as the last of his humanity drains away. As a vampire who was unwillingly turned, Nicholas suddenly finds himself on the other side of the equation wearing the monster’s shoes rather than that of a victim.
The moment where Anna is finally led to Peter to discover his fate was also particularly well done, and I enjoyed Nicholas’ ending—almost a resurrection of his humanity as he decides to remove himself from the world.
On the surface, Bluebells reads as a steamy paranormal romance, but as the pages turn you begin to pick up on an undercurrent that delves into grief and trauma and how love brings out the best of humanity, while its loss can see us succumb to our darker natures.
*Romance/steam levels explainer:
Mild 🌶️– Some romantic interactions and kissing; no on-page or off-page sex scenes.
Warm 🌶️🌶️ – Romantic interactions, kissing, and making out; fade-to-black sex scenes.
Steamy 🌶️🌶️🌶️– romantic interactions, kissing, and making out; one or more on-page sex scenes.
Scorching 🌶️🌶️🌶️🌶️ – romantic interactions, kissing, and making out; detailed and/or longer on-page sex scenes that include four-letter anatomical terms.
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