Full disclosure, right off the bat: I am so not the target audience for this book.
I like a lot of grit in my stories. Anything that’s too smooth, too polished – whether it’s the subject matter or the prose itself – tends to shut me down. I don’t want to read something that feels like it was written – I want to read something that feels like it was survived.
I’m not big on vampires, I don’t read romance novels, and when I worked at a bookstore I leafed through a few pages of the then-all-the-rage series Twilight and quickly gathered that it was not for me.
Julie Hutchings' Running Home is a polished piece of prose, a re-imagining of the vampire mythos with a heaping helping of romance thrown in. In other words, it’s everything I do not look for in a book. Kudos, then, to author Julie Hutchings, who was able to make me put aside my prejudices and finish a book I normally never would have picked up.
If that sounds like I’m damning the book with faint praise, that’s not my intent. For the right reader, Running Home is going to be a very good experience. It’s well-written, has interesting characters and an intriguing premise. Hutchings has a lot of new ideas about vampires, and it’s always refreshing to see someone take an old genre staple and push it in new directions. Her vampires need blood, yes, but there’s more at work than simple hunger; fate is the main theme running through the book, and it has as much to do with the victims as the vampires themselves.
Hutchings reveals her vampire rules slowly and deliberately, and I’m not going to steal her thunder here. What I can say is that you have a man, Nicholas, and a woman, Eliza, and it’s clear from the start that their futures are irrevocably entangled. What’s not immediately clear is the type of relationship they’re heading for: is it vampire and victim? Eternal lovers? Mortal enemies? Hutchings takes great delight in keeping readers guessing.
As I said from the top, this type of book is not normally in my wheelhouse, but the choices I perceive to be flaws may be welcome by other readers. I’m sure others will be fine with the overall slick, glossy feel to the book – it’s just a little too clean and tame for my taste. I’m sure there are readers who will enjoy the romantic overtones, and the seemingly endless references to Nicholas’s eyes (which are described at various points as being like caramel and/or mocha) and his scent (vanilla, cinnamon, and caramel again). These are mostly matters of taste and not technical issues (although maybe a couple of references to the mocha and caramel eyes could have been edited out), and as such won’t get a lot of criticism from me.
One thing I will be a bit critical of, however, is the pace of the book. There are big reveals, events and consequences discussed in this book, and discussed often. This is a book of many conversations, often held in the cozy confines of Nicholas’ cabin, which is bathed in warm light from within and dusted with gently falling snow outside. It’s a cozy book that keeps hinting at horror, but never quite gets there. The big events the book leads up to are all crammed into the final couple of chapters, giving that portion of the book a rushed feel. If Hutchings can work on her pace a bit, space out those dramatic moments and maybe ease off the cozy just a tiny bit, the result will be tighter stories in the future.
So, to recap: this is not my thing, but for younger readers looking for an entry into horror, or readers caught in that inexplicable Twilight spell, Running Home might be the perfect book. Hutchings is a solid writer with a bright future, an author with real raw talent, and I look forward to watching that talent take shape in the years to come.