The Eastern-European myth of the strigoi is the original vampire story. It inspired many modern variants from Bram Stoker onwards, but the strigoi are subtly different. These vampiric creatures are more like sentient parasites, who transfer themselves through host bodies by mixing with their blood – a bite on the neck would do it, but it’s by no means the only way. In this manner, the original strigoi lives eternally through the body and mind of each host, taking their accumulated knowledge and memories with them as they leap from victim to victim.
In this book the strigoi have been brought to the middle of World War II, in an alternate universe where Hitler was spending as much of his war chest on supernatural research as he was on rocket tech. In the middle of it all is a little girl, the focus of one strand of weird Nazi research. She has the mark of the strigoi – a particularly-shaped birthmark on the back of her neck – and is being used in experiments by them, in which she takes over the minds of concentration camp prisoners and sends them into heavily defended military simulations to see if her hive-like mind control can be used to overwhelm otherwise impossible odds. The girl can only control a handful of people at the outset but the Nazi’s hope to train her further, so she can learn to control an army of zombie-like slaves to unquestioningly do her bidding.
Behind the scenes there are other players at work, though. The British have spies reporting back to Churchill about how dangerous the situation is becoming. Perhaps just as dangerous are the political machinations of Nazi military itself, with factions who don’t believe in pouring money into fairy stories when it could be better spent on more tanks and guns. And then there’s the strigoi themselves, deeply entrenched in their enemies’ positions, but working on their own dark and eternal agendas.
The story is a knot of political turmoil and good enough to read twice. With so much going on it’s easy to miss the subtleties of what’s happening here, but it’s actually a finely-tuned piece that’s perfectly-paced and tightly plotted and scripted.
John Cassaday’s art captures the mood and tenseness of the era, with dark hues and grim-faced people, facing the killing of others and their own mortality with a tight-lipped determination. It isn’t art that will stop you in your tracks but it’s clear and it helps keep the complexity of the plot in check.
Overall, it’s a sophisticated read for intelligent horror fans.