Book Review: Teeth by Kelli Owen

“Owen has delivered a thrilling tale which has elements of crime and horror as well as social commentary. But she has also planted a seed that could grow and bear yet more promising fruit.”

 

Kelli Owen has been writing fiction since she was eight, and has been a part of the horror community since the early 2000s, whether through writing reviews, conducting interviews with writers, publishers and actors in the genre or indeed creating her own work. Her latest book takes the vampire myth and twists it, introducing us to a new creature with some new problems, and some of the same old instincts.

In Teeth, Owen has created a world where vampires (Lamians) have always existed, but that has only been common knowledge for about fifty years, the condition rooted not in superstition and magic, but genetics. When children reach puberty, some lose their canines and have slightly longer, sharper, teeth grow in in their place. Given the tumultuous relationship lamians have with humans, this can be a great source of stress for the children, some of whom have been raised by bigoted and fearful parents whose only exposure to vampires is through Hollywood movies where they are portrayed as predatory monsters.

Working to rectify these harmful misrepresentations are the Lamian Council and its branch the Lamplight Foundation, headed by elderly public relations master Maximillian and protégé Victoria. They welcome new lamians and offer to educate humans about their non-threatening nature. But they face more than just bigotry; someone is stalking the streets, attacking innocent citizens and draining them of blood. Is it the work of a vampire? Or does someone have an agenda to incriminate the peaceable lamians?

Owen does an excellent job of using the smalltown USA setting as a smaller version of the country as a whole. And the bigotry and hatred aimed at the lamians is a mirror-image of what every minority has had to endure – and still endures – to this day. She taps into the fears and emotions of her characters to deliver an entertaining story with depth. From the vulnerable teenagers coming to terms with their new fates (while being taunted by the popular kids), to the detective hunting the killer (while enduring intolerance from within the ranks) and the boy who feels threatened by his vampire-hating mother, Owen really goes to great lengths to show every character’s viewpoint.

Her contemporary interpretation of the vampire myth is also quite unique, replacing the age-old tropes and giving them a new lease of life. Gone is the affliction to daylight and garlic. No longer are they immortal, although they do have a longer life-span. And they are able to view themselves in the mirror. All of this makes it easier for them to hide in plain sight (as they have been doing for centuries) while also allowing the author to use it to heighten the fear felt by the intolerant. Their need for blood is less about bloodlust and more to do with dietary requirements. But it also adds to the fear when the killer’s victims are found with holes in their necks and missing blood. And there is still a hint at telepathy playing a role in lamian culture.

This is a self-contained story within a greater universe. Owen has delivered a thrilling tale which has elements of crime and horror as well as social commentary. But she has also planted a seed that could grow and bear yet more promising fruit. While the lamians do not appear to be the threat that small-minded humans would so desperately believe they are, there is still a great deal about them that could still be hidden from the reader. As amiable and open as Maximillian is portrayed, it could yet prove to be adeptly handled misdirection for future stories set in Owen’s world. Or will the true monster continue to be hateful and fearful humans, doomed to repeat history and never learn from it, a worrying trend all too recognisable from our reality? We hope to find out in Kelli Owen’s future work.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Gypsy Press
Paperback: 248 (pps)
Release Date: 3 August 2018

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