You might have noticed that I’m not especially organized. *Ahem* Yes, well. As a result of that, I usually forget to activate incognito mode when I’m trolling around Amazon doing research for books and marketing ideas and so on. Add to that my fairly eclectic reading tastes— everything from the Dresden Files (I broke down and bought the next couple because my local library doesn’t have them) to vampire beat cops fighting semi-sentient books while falling in love, to writing books on technique, to well… you get the idea. As a result, Amazon’s algorithms have no idea what to do with me, and just kinda throws things at me to see what sticks. Sometimes it works and I get to read a Nate Temple novel. Sometimes, well…
Sometimes I get tossed a book with the title Vampire Claus, and it’s a romance novella where a 200-year-old vampire saves Christmas for at-risk homeless kids and finds the man of his dreams, and you go and show your co-workers in the electrics shop and, well… They demanded I write a book report. I’m placing the blame fully on my fellow electricians because I was honestly satisfied just reading the cover copy for this one. Still, it wasn’t a bad way to spend a few hours, and now you get to reap the benefits!
Taviano is feeling rather morose as the story opens, and perches on top of St Stephen’s Catholic Church in Boston, feeling sad and nostalgic for the Christmases of his youth in Italy, where his mother baked things and he celebrated the midnight mass and frolicked happily (and not so innocently) with his best friend. He was an altar boy or some such and was quite devout, but apparently, that didn’t stop him from dreaming about running away with his buddy to live happily not-so-innocently ever after somewhere else. This leads into remembering why he’s sitting on top of the church rather than inside it, or, frankly, being dead and buried somewhere for 150 years or so, and we get a little explanation of how vampires work in this world.
Which is actually kind of interesting to me. Y’all know I’m a sucker (hah!) for vampires, and the setup here is pretty different from anything else I’ve come across. The idea is that rather than becoming a bloodsucking demon, a human is killed in order to host a bloodsucking demon. A separate consciousness that Taviano is aware of and struggles against every day. He refuses to simply let the beast loose to feed or fight or what have you and has managed to sate it by feeding every few days off the dregs of humanity: murderers, rapists, violent offenders of all sorts. It helps him justify his continued existence to himself.
In this world, vampires must still be invited into private residences. Sunlight is still fatal, but physical wounds are not such a problem— either for himself or for anyone he chooses to aid— thanks to the substance that has replaced basically every bodily fluid in him, and he has to lose a great deal of it before injuries start to do genuine damage. He calls it ‘ichor’ and it’s a thick, clear substance that flows through his veins rather than blood. As we learn it also replaces tears and, er, other stuff. It’s a handy substance to have since it heals him right up when he gets wounded, and he uses it to heal up bite marks on his victims before he alters their memories and leaves them (usually, mostly) alive. All this stuff is not only fascinating but important later on!
He is, as one would expect, pounced upon and threatened by a local vampire. Our Hero tries to explain that he’s just passing through and will be gone by dawn, but she says he has until midnight before she gets her allies and they come after him. As soon as she leaves he hears the sounds of a mugging in progress! On Christmas Eve? He can’t stand for that and also, hey, dinner!
The man being accosted is A: predictably beautiful, B: carrying a whole bunch of bags full of what we learn are presents for the kids in an LGBT+ shelter, and C: (again, predictably) coatless and poor. Taviano springs into action and rescues the guy, and we are immediately subjected to the worst sort of dudebro dialogue I have come across in years. “Your name is lit up!” “A scar would be gangsta!” “No, I got this bruh.”
Actual quotes, you guys.
Paul is… well we can see what he’s supposed to be. Kind, hardworking, generous, and selfless. Paul is really supposed to be Cinderella and Bob Cratchett rolled up together in a Studly McHotpants package. He ends up coming off as painfully, excruciatingly young. And more than a bit dim. Sigh. Did I mention the dudebro speak?
Taviano, on the other hand, turned out to be really pretty likable, much to my chagrin. He’s mostly got a handle on the guilt he feels at being a ‘murderer’ and a ‘monster’ and all that. I already mentioned the only-feeds-on-bad-guys thing. He’s also fighting a loneliness that isn’t only born of being effectively immortal. He’s also struggling with the lingering feelings he had for his bestie back when he was alive, and also the weight of some 200 years of having society tell him that who and how he loved was wrong. I mean that sort of thing can mess you up after a few months, can you even imagine centuries of it? Taviano works through it all with grace, which is pretty surprising, since so many character arcs I read about guilt like this end up with the character basically just saying ‘eh, fuckit.’ and Taviano actually seems to get through some of it honestly.
Still, Taviano is smitten and is also a bit hung up on being able to hold an actual conversation for the first time in something like 150 years, so he ends up helping Paul (the dudebro) take the presents to the shelter, where they arrive late, after the doors are locked. Moved by the determination of Paul to not ruin Christmas for these kids, Taviano uses his vampire superpowers to leap to the roof, break in from there, put the presents under the tree, and then wake everyone up and make them all think that Santa has delivered the presents before running like a bat out of… well out of a shelter, actually. Like you do.
There is an entirely expectable amount of sexytime, which I won’t get into, Paul convinces Taviano to try entering the church for mass which works out surprisingly well for everyone, and afterward, he manages to get completely high off vampire tears, I shit you not. The local vampires attack and actually do a fair amount of damage to everyone involved, Tavano lets his inner demon out to play, Paul (much like Tiny Tim) does not die due to, um… reasons involving that ichor I mentioned, and ingesting it in more ways than one and we’re all smart enough here that I don’t need to go into further detail.
Interestingly enough while there is a happily ever after of sorts (a vampire and his boyfriend, sorting out sleeping schedules!) there is also a fairly compelling hook for the author to write more about these characters. The demon is pretty explicit in explaining that he has his own plans and Taviano is not privy to them. There’s a bunch of loot that he gets from beating the local vampires, too, and his strong suspicion that Paul is going to want to host a little demon of his own someday which makes him uneasy.
All in all, once I got past the occasionally somewhat clunky prose, the story was reasonably decent. Several parts were predictable, admittedly, but they weren’t done so badly as to be awful. The inconsistently dudebro-y dialogue was distracting, and honestly not very smooth. I’m giving Vampire Claus 3.5 out of 5 rutabagas. But, if you’re looking for a paranormal romance with a holiday twist you could certainly do much worse. Heck, there’s a reindeer shifter romance set in a Halloween haunted house out there.
Told you I get some weird stuff sometimes.