I won’t deny that I initially approached J.M. Frey’s The Dark Side of the Glass with some measure of hesitation. My regular readers know how little I regard our society’s current taste in brooding self-loathing vampires who just want to be loved. Yet J.M., who has appeared on the Page of Reviews podcast on more than one occasion, sent me an advanced copy of her novel – a novel that cites the likes of Forever Knight as an indirect inspiration. Sufficed to say, I was sceptical. However, my reticence melted within the first few pages of the book when an anonymous character yelled that they were “…so sick of this vampire crap.” That’s when I knew there was a very interesting game afoot. As I read on, I became convinced that I was looking at a clever piece of satire.
Mary, the novel’s protagonist, lives in Toronto where she is a parking production assistant for the fictional television series City by Night. Mary is the consummate fan, and she loves City by Night. Working on the series, even in her most menial of roles, is a dream come true. When she’s not at work, she’s at conventions, or she’s writing fanfic in the guise of screenplays submitted to her executive producer, or she’s fawning over series’ lead character Leondre DuNoir, a mystery solving vampire. Mary is also guilty of committing that most common sin within fandom; she assumes that the creators of a television series are as emotionally invested in product as their fans. Mary gets a cold dose of reality when she overhears the showrunnner and star mocking the series, the fans, and by extension the purpose of her life. Then she gets hit by a craft services truck.
When Mary wakes up, she finds herself not in Toronto, but Night City, the imagined location of City by Night. That’s where things start to get interesting as Mary lives out the “Mary Sue’s” greatest fantasy: being cast as herself within the very thing that she loves. It’s too bad for her that television doesn’t always have the best writing.
Even though most of DSOTG is set within Night City, a place inhabited by vampires who bear a striking similarity to…well every TV vampire, it’s not really fair to pigeon hole this novel as “vampire fiction”. It’s far too meta for such an easy framework. Much like Ann-Marie MacDonald’s protagonist in Good Night Desdemona-Good Morning Juliet, Mary attempts to fix the problems within the narrative. In doing so she comes to confront all of the things that she never noticed as a fan: the contrived plots, the product placement, the adherence established tropes, and the shallow characters who can’t pass the Bechdel Test if their lives depend on it. It’s a delicious irony that sees a fantasy world as the only place where Mary can begin to connect with the reality of her obsession. Mary learns that it is not that orgasmic of a thing to have a Vampire suck blood out of her neck.
On that level, this novel revels in confronting fans with the reality of their fandom. Yet it manages to do so through appeals to humour rather than snark at the expense of fans who know not what they do. That humour also serves to make the author’s insights into the Canadian television industry seem incredibly honest. One particular scene comes to mind when Mary says that Night City is Toronto that is supposed to look like New York but ends up seeming like Detroit because the show can’t afford the permits to shoot in the expensive parts of town. I read that section and all I could do was laugh as I thought back on the short lived Robocop series, filmed in Mississauga and Toronto, and the Robocop: Prime Directives miniseries, also shot in Toronto. Fun fact: Robocop: PD starred Geraint Wyn Davies, who played Nick Knight, the titular vampire in Forever Knight, who looks to be the obvious inspiration for DSOTG’s Leondre DuNoir.
While this novel has a lot working in its favour, its length stood out as something of a puzzle. DSOTG is a very short book. Though it is broken up into chapters, it reads much more like a short story on premium grade anabolic steroids. As quickly as the plot moves, so too does the story come to an end. Considering Mary’s growth as a character, I would have enjoyed a greater exploration of her life once she returns to Toronto from the world of Night City. On a more practical note, I really hope that when Double Dragon Publishing puts this book to market, they price it a level that is appropriate for a 62 page story.
In the end, Frey’s novel shows how a one-dimensional trope of fan fiction can become a meta-critic of their own environment. Personally, I think that is fantastic. However, there’s no escaping Mary’s realization that City by Night, and perhaps the entire brooding vampire sub-genre, is a shallow thing. Thus there is a danger that this novel flies a little too close to the sun for some would-be readers. Vampire fans might do well to avoid this book if they are incapable of having a little laugh at their own expense. For everybody else, if you like sharp wit and satire, then The Dark Side of the Glass is a safe bet.