Bloodlust and Bonnets by Emily McGovern tells a fast-paced and absurdist adventure story in which an amoral young lady called Lucy teams up with Lord Byron and some other vaguely reliable pals to hunt vampires. There’s a giant eagle who speaks French and communicates telepathically. It’s a lot of fun. Bloodlust and Bonnets Emily McGovern
Bloodlust and Bonnets by Emily McGovern tells a fast-paced and absurdist adventure story in which an amoral young lady called Lucy teams up with Lord Byron and some other vaguely reliable pals to hunt vampires. There’s a giant eagle who speaks French and communicates telepathically. It’s a lot of fun.
Bloodlust and Bonnets
Andrews McMeel Publishing
Emily McGovern’s writing and art style (and possibly a cameo from a well-known bibbling wizard) in Bloodlust and Bonnets is recognizable from her charming webcomic, “My Life as a Background Slytherin.” Characters say “helluuuuu” to each other, and faces have button eyes but no mouths. A lot is conveyed through body language. The style, so perfect for McGovern’s gag strips, translates well to this longer format because the characters have extremely distinct physical attributes to distinguish them (Rebekah Rarely’s lovely color work helps with this as well). McGovern’s writing, too, stays punchy; there is at least one laugh line per page.
The story of Bloodlust and Bonnets opens with Lucy, in the expected Regency-era garb of empire waist and giant bonnet, on a walk with a gentleman who is complaining of having too much land. She goes on an unexpected murdering spree, and covered in blood afterwards is addressed by a doyenne of a vampire cult who invites Lucy to join her in immortality and, one assumes, hedonistic violence. Lucy is in the middle of promptly and enthusiastically accepting this invitation when Lord Byron shows up and impales the vampire, “rescuing” Lucy and whisking her off to his magical Scottish castle. Byron invites her to join him in becoming a vampire hunter, and she goes with the flow.
The premise may sound reminiscent of something like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but while that project always annoyed me because it seemed like it was trying to snidely call Austen boring and imply her plots needed to be “fixed,” it is clear from Bloodlust and Bonnets that Emily McGovern is lovingly addressing the tropes she spoofs, from Regency romance to vampire hunting. The tone reminds me of some of Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant! work, especially in Lord Byron’s nemesis relationship with Walter Scott.
Byron and Lucy’s team of vampire hunters is already pretty unconventional, with Byron’s narcissistic swooning, his sentient Castle, and French-speaking telepathic eagle, when they are joined by a mercenary named Sham. As they hatch a plot to track down the vampire cult, a love triangle emerges in which Byron assumes he and Lucy are a couple, Lucy attempts to romance Sham, and Sham is uninterested. They are assisted somewhat ambivalently by a society darling who has been widowed by wealthy husbands so many times, so, so many; and an ex partner/love interest of Sham’s, and a naked young man named James who is romanced by Byron. It’s an impressive panoply of characters, and the world McGovern creates seems appropriately vast, but socially interconnected.
It is also more diverse, along lines of skin tone, body type, age, gender, sexuality and social class than one might expect from a spoof of Regency vampire hunting romance. While it is not mentioned in the dialogue, it is clear from the depictions that not all characters are white or slim. Byron and Lucy are both romantically interested in people of multiple genders, including each other but also James and Sham. Sham, when asked “Is it Mr. Sham or Miss Sham?” answers “yes,” and various characters use various pronouns for Sham throughout the story.
It’s hard to convey in logical paragraphs how zany and fun this book is, but one of the things that makes the absurd elements of the plot work so well is that no one in this story is “the good guys.” Ulterior motives abound, and while allegiances are often kept, the priority of most of the characters seems to be to have a good time. That means as the reader, I identify with Lucy because she’s my point of view character, but the stakes feel satisfyingly low: I am also in it to have a good time, and Emily McGovern absolutely delivers one.