Everybody hopes to find what they’re looking for. Or do they?
The earliest drafts of Toten Herzen Malandanti had a different working title: The Lost Valley. Cover art showed a burning Crest in the middle of Great Moss, a damp plateau high in the English Lake District.
Of all the subjects covered by the Toten Herzen novels, the second book came closest to my own experiences. As a child I would look at a print on the wall at home and wonder where the lake and mountains were. My parents told visitors it was in the Lake District, at the head of Windermere, way farther north than Bowness, and back then we had yet to get as far as Ambleside (at the head of Windermere).
By the time I was old enough to visit the Lake Dstrict on my own I knew the print wasn’t of Windermere or anywhere in the Lake District for that matter. But when I began the development work for TH Malandanti I already knew it would be set in the Lake District, it would be about searching and loss and that Rob Wallet would also remember that print from his own childhood.
Wallet’s search for his lost valley is typical of the metaphysical searches in the novel. Wallet isn’t looking for a real valley, he’s looking for an ideal, a state of mind which he knows is unachievable; it’s no coincidence he locates a recording studio in the Lake District quite aware his lost valley isn’t up there. What he wants is to go back in time.
Also searching for a mythical valley is Lena Siebert-Neved, the Bamberg business woman and leader of the Bamberg coven, part of a network known as the Malandanti. Lena knows the valley exists – Dee Vincent has a book to prove it – but she also knows if she finds the valley there’s no way in unless she dies first.
These searches don’t follow the usual literary conventions in which the protagonist faces a series of challenges: eg. Arthur’s grail quest or Jason’s search for the Golden Fleece. Lena’s search doesn’t end when she has Dee’s book and the valley’s location, but being a witch she thinks there’ll be a solution that doesn’t involve becoming a vampire.
If only her husband’s search was that simple. Dmitri Neved, lost after the fall of communism and struggling with Russia’s new market economy, he accepts Lena’s request to embed himself in the Toten Herzen camp teaching Susan Bekker how to sing. His world has descended from conductor at the St. Petersburg Observatory to a vampire’s voice coach. Staring at his piano, moaning about its colour, he is a man consumed by darkness, the same darkness consuming Wallet’s Lake District and its (non-existent) lost valley.
This is one of the ironies of the story: Wallet returning to the Lakes, but being a vampire only able to see it now in the dark! He finds an unlikely semi-sympathetic ear in Raven who has her own ongoing search for immortality and someone, anyone, who’ll ‘turn her.’ A brief meeting with her Trotskyist-Leninist parents in Nottingham explains why she wants to get away.
Many of the searches in Malandanti are symptomatic of something else. Susan looking for a voice coach because she’s looking for a voice because she wants a greater presence, more control, and ultimately a return to having her own band. Early on in the story she accidentally refers to Toten Herzen as After Sunset, letting slip her own desire to go back in time. She and Wallet have more in common than they think.
Should Lena find the lost valley of Dee’s book she’ll obtain the freedom to practice her witchcraft and the freedom to play havoc with her magic that would follow. Ultimately, being part of the Malandanti, she’s looking to undermine the western Christian institutions that persecuted her descendants and fellow witches 400 years ago during the Bamberg witch trials. They died in their thousands; vengeance for their torment will require Lena to die too, a catalogue of misery and conflict that Dmitri longs to escape from, his salvation only possible if Susan manages to hit those high notes without terrifying the local wildlife.
Across the Atlantic, the US diva Rose Pursey searches for restitution and $120 million in damages following Dee Vincent’s libellous interview in Hullaballoo magazine. Pursey lacks the intelligence to even know her life is an endless pursuit for attention and headlines. She leaves the frustrations of that search to her suffering attorney, Cliff Morgenstein.
Eventually, the story leads us to Albert, a four year-old vampire and the only child in the vampire village of Altengen. Condemned to an immortality of youth he’s too young to understand what he is or comprehend his eternal fate, which probably spares him the dread of awareness. He doesn’t know it yet, but Wallet’s search is for an existence precariously close to that of Albert’s: forever the child.
If we ourselves find out why Wallet pines for the past, the answer may explain his motives for bringing about Toten Herzen’s comeback. And with that question answered, Susan Bekker’s reasons for agreeing to it after thirty-five years in hiding.