Inevitably, the New Year is offering fantasy fans yet another vampiric mythology. But “The Blood Gospel,” on sale Tuesday, is not the run-of-the-mill, pulse-thrumping, blood-sucking urban fantasy.
No, “The Blood Gospel,” co-authored by bestselling authors James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, is a smart and complex blend of their complementary talents for thrilling plots, character and place. Together, they present readers with a grand and grotesque reimagining of the history of the Roman Catholic Church, a history that places mankind and myth in a dire conflict, riddled with twists and otherworldly-creature turns that give new definition to the origin of vampires and confound the story’s three current-day protagonists.
The unlikely triad includes gifted archeologist Erin Granger, barely containing her troubled childhood; stalwart and pragmatic Army Ranger Sergeant Jordan Stone; and the pale and hooded Father Rhun Korza, whose unspoken past is nonetheless ever-present.
Rollins and Cantrell launch the three on a 67-hour quest to find the mysterious Blood Gospel, a quest that provides a showcase for the authors’ penchant for research. Described by Cantrell as “research junkies,” the co-authors divvied up the many eras their plot visits, as it takes the reader from the 1st-century AD Siege of Masada’s mass suicide to the Renaissance-era torturer Countess Elisabeta Báthory to Nazi Germany’s fascination with the occult to a contemporary corporation of the mystical variety. The result is an engaging work wrought by Cantrell and Rollins’ experiment in collaboration.
In recent phone interviews with Rollins, based in California, and Cantrell, based in Germany, the two authors raved about their experience.
Rollins: “I got this idea of a vampiric retelling of early Catholic history. After writing 24 books, I know my weaknesses as a writer. To capture that gothic quality, I don’t think I could do that. … [Cantrell is] really good at creating an evocative sense of place and time. I thought our two talents could mesh: If I could bring the plot, she could bring the time and place.”
Cantrell: “He called me up, said, ‘I love your work and I’d like to work on a project with you.’ What’s it about? ‘Well, the details are confidential.’ Then he caved and told me everything about it. It just sounded like it would be so much fun. As a writer, you’re always looking for stuff that will pull you in new directions. … It’s absolutely wonderful, creating your own world, and doing it with someone else is even more fun — you get a richer mythology.”
Despite the fun, the challenges of a long-distance working relationship were surely present, and they continue as the pair work on the second book, tentatively titled “Punishment Of Silver,” in what has become a planned series.
Cantrell: “This collaboration would not have been possible without technology. I guess we could have done a lot by phone, but … I’d ask him a question and he’d be silent for a minute. So, OK he’s obviously off playing Internet poker!”
Rollins: “I’m sometimes shocked that Rebecca is in Germany. We Skype for four to six hours every week. We spend a lot of time chatting. It’s amazing that technology can bring that intimacy, bring us so close.”
Rollins and Cantrell also addressed the Catholic theme of the novel.
Cantrell: “While we were writing it, we were trying to be true to the characters, so it felt more faith-based than I expected, but a lot of Catholics are very upset about it. While we didn’t set out to infuriate anyone, we certainly did. … We are taking the most sacred ritual and saying it was created to feed vampires.”
Rollins: “I saw it as a deeply spiritual novel that might be considered blasphemous.”
Has co-authoring changed them as writers?
Rollins: “I’ve learned a lot from Rebecca in regards to some of the things she talks about, how she talks about characters before she starts writing. She’s more character driven; I’m more plot driven.”
Cantrell: “My friend called it the James Rollins forced march, because Jim is a lot faster that I am. Through the process, I’ve learned to write a lot faster and to move through the story a lot faster, and I hope that’s going to stick with me for future projects. Now, I’m more open to being more collaborative with my work in general.”
This particular collaboration promises a long-term writing adventure for Cantrell and Rollins: “The Blood Gospel” is the first book of two planned trilogies, The Order of the Sanguines Series. And the series is sure to put the Pope’s head in a spin. If the Pope reads vampire novels. Which it’s reasonable to assume he does not. … Perhaps he should start?
San Diego Reading: Friday, Jan. 11, 7 pm at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore. James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell will be reading from and signing “The Blood Gospel.” Mysterious Galaxy is at 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Suite #302, San Diego, CA 92111. Call 858-268-4747.
You might also like to read:
“City of Screams,” a short story by Rollins and Cantrell that introduces Sergeant Jordan Stone’s character
Rollins’ SIGMA Force thriller series
Photo credits: Rebecca Cantrell image by Angela Marklew, James Rollins James image by David Sylvian
Kit-Bacon Gressitt's commentary and political fiction can be read on her blog Excuse Me, I'm Writing and have been published by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, The Ocean Beach Rag, The Progressive Post and San Diego Free Press. She formerly worked for the North County Times. She is also host of Fallbrook's monthly Writers Read open mic and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.