Do you ever unintentionally fall into a pattern with the media you consume? Maybe you can’t escape fantasy, whether it’s in books, movies, TV, or video games. Recently, I found myself delving into the role-playing game Vampyr at the same time as I read Opium and Absinthe by Lydia Kang. Two very different mediums, but set in very close time periods and dealing with incredibly similar motifs. Working through them at the same time added value to each experience, as I established connections and had new questions.
Set in 1918, the game Vampyr features Dr. Jonathan Reid as he reckons with his newfound identity as a vampire. Simultaneously, Europe is facing the consequences of the Great War and dealing with the catastrophic Spanish Flu outbreak. Dr. Reid struggles with his need to feed on humans and his intrinsic desire to heal them, and watches as the flu’s victims overlap with new vampiric hosts.
Alongside Vampyr, I had Opium and Absinthe, a historical fiction/mystery/gothic novel set in 1899. This follows Tillie, a young woman with an insatiable craving for knowledge stifled by her family while they’re driven by social standing. After her sister is murdered, she’s left with endless questions and fills in her own doubts with speculations supported by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. An injury left her with a need for opium, and the more she is consumed by her addiction, the more she is inclined to believe the extraordinary. She becomes fixated on finding the truth of her sister’s murder, and I can assure you, it is not the truth you will expect.
I found the characters of Tillie and Dr. Swansea from Vampyr to be strikingly aligned. Dr. Swansea is a mortal man who devotes his time to researching vampires and the different mutations that occur; he studies what it takes for someone to become a skal, an especially feral vampire. He and Tillie are both fascinated by the concept of vampirism and need to know everything they can. Tillie goes so far as to ask questions about animals that feed on blood and ponder the distance between the two bite marks on her sister’s neck. Both Vampyr and Opium and Absinthe will leave you believing that the most dangerous vampires in society have no fangs or thirst for blood.
Although the two stories appear to be similar in the sense of medically-driven vampire fiction, there is much more under the surface than meets the eye. Opium and Absinthe will pull you in and out of believing Tillie as her thoughts become more obscured by her opium dependency. It is an interesting and disorienting read.
If, like me, you thoroughly enjoy vampire-oriented fiction, I recommend you check these two out. And if you’re especially interested in fiction with medical knowledge tied in, read works by Lydia Kang.