“Red Ribbons” by Stephanie Burgis

This story appeared in Black Static #11 (yeah, I’ve completely abandoned any idea of doing this in chronological order and am simply reading whatever takes my fancy), and marked Stephanie Burgis’ debut in the magazine. The author of a YA fantasy trilogy set in Regency England, Burgis is married to another TTA irregular, Patrick Samphire (check out her website for more).

A vampire tale set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, Burgis’ work was more traditional in feel than most of the material found between the covers of Black Static, the setting bringing to mind Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s classic novel The Hotel Transylvania.

The story opens with the words ‘I can help you forget. That was the first thing she told me.’ But it’s a lie, because if this story demonstrates anything, it’s that there are things we can’t forget or overlook, not as individuals nor as a society.

Annette faces an arranged marriage to the odious Duc, but instead she accepts embraces and death at the hands of Therese Mondoval. In this case death is not an end though, and love can overcome all else – ‘I would have fought a whole army to find her again. Clawing my way out of a mere grave, seven days later, was no effort.’

The two vampires survive the bloody days of The Terror, and in the aftermath prepare to re-enter society at a ball to celebrate the new order. Only at this ball Annette encounters a former schoolfriend, while Therese falls into the clutches of her upright and godly father, a man prepared to kill even his own daughter.

It’s a straightforward enough story, remarkable for the beauty of the writing and the exquisite touches of period detail Burgis brings to the page, as with the descriptions of the ‘damp’ clothing the women wear as a fashion statement, while the red ribbons of the title are those worn by aristocrats who have survived The Terror as a way of commemorating their slain comrades, a macabre reminder of Madam Guillotine.

Therese seems to have a will to self-destruction, undone by the desire to see her father again, even though she must know exactly how he will react (she cannot forget the ties of family, even though amnesia is the boon she promises Annette).

But something else seems to be going on here. In the father’s words we find an echo of sentiments held by all parents unable to accept their children for what they are -’it may look like a beautiful woman, gentlemen, but it’s no more than a demon beneath the skin.’ Similarly, when her schoolfriend Henriette prevents Annette going to her lover’s aid, the words she uses about the need to hide and survive at all costs could as easily be applicable to lesbians as vampires. There is an ambiguity here, and while the Terror may be over, this society is still prey to uncountable and unnecessary fears (the vampires take only what they need to survive, leaving their victims weak but alive).

The story ends with Annette declaring that she will never forget as she prepares to take revenge, and in this she seems to mirror the ones who hunt her kind.

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