Despite my curiosity regarding the author's take on vampires, and the intriguing promise James Lyon made regarding a thriller that "won't insult your intelligence" and "will keep you turning the pages," Kiss of the Butterfly is a book that languished on the edge of my currently reading pile for an inexcusably long-time. It's a shame, because once I settled in for the read, I happily breezed through it in a matter of days.
One of the things that immediately impressed me about the novel (even if it did make for slow going in the early chapters) was the solid grounding in Balkan geography and folklore. There are serious political, social, and religious elements to the story, and they're entirely fascinating, especially within the context of the tale. Far too many authors stick their story in some artificial backwoods European landscape and call it Transylvania, and then pick and choose from Westernized vampire stories to mix their own mythology. Rather than try to top those who have come before, Lyon allows the authentic savagery of those monstrous legends and superstitions to drive the darkness of his tale.
This is more than just a monster tale, however. It's also a story of human beings trapped between political despair on the one hand, and supernatural despair on the other. The characters here are all well-developed, and even if they are a bit unrealistic, they definitely leap off the page. Steven is a bit of a downer, a rather soft protagonist who seems to spend more time complaining than playing the hero, but it is nice to come across a main character who doesn't suddenly feel compelled to go against his basic human nature simply because the plot dictates it. Professor Slatina is a fantastic character, the mysterious mentor who serves as both a window into the past and a guide for the future, while Katarina is definitely one of the bright spots of the novel, serving both as a catalyst and a connection between characters.
Like I said, the early going is a bit slow (even a bit dense at times), but it truly is worth sticking with the read. Once Lyon has the reader grounded in his world, and the underlying elements of the story defined, he really takes off. At its height, this is a fascinating thriller that works equally well as an historical adventure as a contemporary horror story. Some readers may be unsettled by the way in which Lyon leaps backwards and forwards in time, but the best vampire tales incorporate this manner of storytelling, allowing the history to not only illuminate the present, but to serve as a storyline all on its own. There are several unique twists that help to keep the story moving, and more than a few surprises that keep things fresh. I won't say that every twist works - there were a few that I felt were a bit strained - but every story has its twist or turn that doesn't work for a reader.
I've seen more than one reviewer attempt to compare Kiss of the Butterfly to the likes of The DaVinci Code, The Historian, and even Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but going into this book expecting it to be 'like' something else is doing it a disservice. Yes, it shares some elements with all of those, but the grounding in Balkan history and politics lends it an air of originality that sets it apart. This a story that works entirely on its own, as a fresh addition to the vampire genre - not as a rehash of something that's gone before. It's full of the fantastic and the supernatural, but it somehow manages to feel authentic at the same time.