Set in a finely-detailed Calcutta during the 19th century when India was under British rule, No Blood Spilled is not very long, just over 200 pages, and moves efficiently from one vivid scene to the next in an almost cinematic fashion. Don't take this as a criticism: No Blood Spilled is plenty gory (so yeah, the title is kinda ironic), envisioning a meeting of two masters of macabre mayhem: the dread vampire and the Thuggee cult... and ultimately, the goddess of death and nothingness herself, Kali. As a diehard fan of modern classic horror works set in India like Song of Kali and "Calcutta, Lord of Nerves," can you blame me for reading this last volume first?
You can read the basic setup here on the back cover, but it doesn't capture the deftness with which Daniels paces his story, nor the characters he so easily brings to life (or takes to death). There's Callender, who tricks his way out of a British prison to track the vampire Don Sebastian de Villanueva, centuries before a Spanish nobleman but now known by the English name Sebastian Newcastle. Once in Calcutta Callender meets up with an old school chum, Lieutenant Hawke, now a cruel, ambitious military man intent on wiping out the last remnants of the Thuggee cult. Jamini is the young, wily street urchin who "befriends" Newcastle after rescuing his coffin from the sea. The silk merchant Kalidas Sen is actually a Thug leader addicted to cobra venom, and who sees in Newcastle perhaps an ally in the battle against the British. Or perhaps not. And of course there's the beautiful Sarala Ghosh, who finds herself caught between the living, the undead, and the divine...
Daniels well utilizes the darker aspects of the Hindu mythology that features Kali, contrasting the vast murderous impulses of the Thuggee with those of Newcastle, murderous impulses that must not shed blood (their method of murder is strangulation). Newcastle is somewhat of a cipher, which I suppose is appropriate. I think Newcastle identifies with the bloodthirstiness of the goddess, her eternal power and might, and wishes to get as close to her as he can. A quote engraved on the Kali shrine in which Kalidas and his men bunker down in with firearms and gunpowder to battle the British:
Terror is they name, O Kali
And Death is in thy Hand
Who dares love misery...
And hugs the form of Death
To him the Mother comes!
Man do I love that stuff! The more dramatic and horrific set pieces could be descriptions of early 1970s cover art from Creepy, Eerie or Tomb of Dracula comics; you can tell how much fun Daniels is having with the tale, evoking horror tropes with real respect. Newcastle, clad in black while walking the night, tears off heads and drinks the jetting blood. Callender witnesses one awesome scene as he's stranded in the forest with Sarala, just as his horse has been devoured by a black panther. The animal, bloody-muzzled, nuzzles a familiar dark shape and purrs:
And as the moonlight carved shadows in the figures set before him, the scene began to change. Sarala, her sari still hanging from one hand, began to tear at Newcastle's clothes, while he writhed and twisted like a thing possessed... stripped to the waist, Newcastle dropped to his knees, his white back heaving and darkening as malignant growths sprouted from this shoulder blades and bloomed into gigantic leathery wings. Sarala clutched their clothing to her breast as the vampire embraced her, his great wings rippling like sails in a high wind, and suddenly they were aloft, dwindling in an instant to a black bat against the moon.
The Vampire Chronicles or A Delicate Dependency. This approach results in a lightweight, yet highly enjoyable and unique vampire novel that truly satisfies and which I can recommend as serious horrific fun.