The Masquerade, by Vasili Rijikov. Prologue-Chapter 1

A story about vampires called The Masquerade? Sounds familiar.So, yeah, it’s plagiarism. And by “plagiarism” I don’t mean that the author copied some aspects of VtM, like clan structure or its themes or what have you. I mean he writes about Camarilla, Sabbath, Malkavians and other very recognizable names, managing to butcher everything interesting and original about the game in the process. It’s an AU fanfic that was published because Mother Russia scoffs at your puny copyright laws.

How is that possible? Well, long story short, international copyright law is a legal nightmare when it comes to dealing with Russia, so most authors don’t bother as long as the plagiarists don’t try to publish in the West. We have Harry Potter knock-off, more openly so than usual, I mean, there are at least two other instances of plagiarizing VtM in different ways, there is a novelization of Zelda written by an eight year old girl (it was back when Eragon was talked about)… So, if you have any fanfics you really want to publish, you know now where to go.

In author’s defense, he didn’t know he was plagiarizing someone’s work. He certainly had no intention of doing anything wrong. You see, he’d found a VtM translation on the Internet and thought that everything published on the Internet is free for everyone to use.

No, seriously, that’s his excuse.

So, as you can guess, the author has a rather unique perspective of life. Let’s see what kind of story it will produce.

The book opens with a quote from Blade: “Vampires… They are everywhere.”

Yeah.

I don’t have anything against Blade. It’s a fine enough action movie, which I remember fondly but have no intention to re-watch anytime soon. But that’s a thing: it’s just a fine enough action movie. It didn’t redefine vampire genre or anything, to my knowledge. It didn’t have any profound messages. So why quote from it? And why use such a bland quote at it? It doesn’t set the mood, it doesn’t add to the story, in fact, it doesn’t even really fit the story since the tone and ideas behind it are very different from the movie. It doesn’t even show off how clever and educated you.

My bet is on author just learning what “epigraph” means and being eager to try it out, but not being familiar with any actually good quotes.

Moving on. The book proper opens with our hero, Pavel, complaining about being late to visit his parents due to a train derail, then complaining more about his parents not appreciating him and making him work on their dacha*.

*A lot of people living in big Russian cities have small
houses outside of those cities, where air is cleaner and land is
cheaper. Those houses are often impossible to live in due to the lack of
insulation, heating, sometimes electricity and running water. Instead
they are used to rest close to nature without abandoning the comforts of
civilization completely. Those houses are called dachas. Around dacha,
there is often a small kitchen-garden holding a great power of
transforming rest into hard work.

I feel we are going to love Pavel.

Then he rolls on random encounters table, and five thugs appear, demanding his money. It’s interesting how those random thugs appear in every amateur novel to demonstrate how cool the protagonist is. Unfortunately, they are typically boring at best, and at worst reveal how smug and arrogant the supposed cool protagonist is. Guess which case we have here.

That’s right, Pavel is a sociopath.

He kills them all, revealing in the process superspeed, superstrength, ability to grow claws and control over fire.

He doesn’t kill their leader right away, cornering him instead and patiently waiting for the thug to draw his gun. Only then, after giving the guy false hope, does Pavel attack, first ripping off the hand holding the gun, then crushing the thug.

I would comment on what this sequence tells us about the protagonist, but I know what’s coming later, so I’ll spare my rant until then.

That’s when the narration reveals that Pavel is a vampire. Just to be clear, it’s still daylight. How come he doesn’t burn and die, sparing us an awful book? You’ll see.

He proceeds to wave around a mystic talisman, which apparently would make it so nobody would pay attention to the corpses.

Then he sends a text to someone called Ira:

“No hunt today, I snapped again. Sorry.”

The action apparently brought him back to his complaining self, as he proceeds to grumble about how Ira would be angry over his lack of self-control, and would want to know the details of the incident.

Then we switch to another POV with a cute “***” left-aligned line breaker.

Our deuteragonist, Alexei, is lurking in some unspecified woods trying to find a mark showing where a stash with weapons is hidden. He is paranoid about them following him, and tries to see their auras, though he’s refusing to say who they are until the end of the segment. In any case, he sees nothing suspicious.

He finds the mark soon enough and flashbacks a bit about Teacher (capital T) telling him that along with fine weapons there would be a cipher telling about another stash, with something valuable to the Hunters as a whole.

That’s pretty much it: Alexei emerges from the woods with a duffel bag full of weapons, and doesn’t fear vampires anymore.

I am not entirely sure why Teacher couldn’t just handle Alexei the weapons in person. Pretty sure they are going to hang out together later. Still, this segment manages to be much better than Pavel’s section, despite being about trice as short. Alexei so far doesn’t feel like a sociopath, and instead of bitching about dacha, he’s paranoid about vampires hunting him down. A vast improvement.

It’s still not a good read, and it’s clear the author doesn’t like writing about hunters as much as about vampires, but it’s closer to what I would expect from an amateur but well-meaning writer.

With that the prologue ends.

The first chapter starts right where the prologue ended, which makes me wonder why it’s even called “prologue.” Does author think that prologue is just chapter zero or something?

Anyway, here we meet creatures created by the author rather than stolen from VtM: upiri. They are basically poor man’s Nosferatu: ugly and animistic. The narration tells us they are something in-between vampires and ghouls (whom author calls guly because he doesn’t know that “ghoul” actually translates as “upir”). They were summoned here by Pavel to dispose of fresh corpses by eating them. The narration takes a moment to tell us how grateful upiri are to Pavel, and how they are all but grovel at his feet. Pavel doesn’t enjoy that much, but the author probably does.

Leaving upiri behind, Pavel continues his walk to his parents, but is stopped shortly after by an unfamiliar vampire. Pavel actives the “Sight of the Night,” which apparently allows him to determine that the vampire is a caitiff.

The narration correctly tells us that caitiffs are clanless vampires, but also informs us that vampires who “don’t pass a test” are made into caitiffs, which is bullshit. As far as VtM is concerned, vampires are rare, and getting permission to turn a human into vampire is hard, so just throwing someone away to fend on their own is not something anyone can afford. Every vampire is either a resource to be used or an obstacle to get rid off. Caitiffs, those, are clanless due to circumstances rather than design. Usually they are victims of unauthorized Embrace, left behind by their sires. Sometimes their sires die before they can explain anything. Stuff like that.

But expecting this book to follow anything resembling VtM lore is foolish, which is neatly demonstrated by the narration informing us that vampires have caste clan marks on their foreheads visible only with the Sight of the Night, and only with capital letters.

Clan marks look like circles with clan symbols inside. Caitiffs have simple gray circles, while Pavel have a dotted one with no symbol since he’s just a neonate, in case you were curious.

Anyway, back to the book. Pavel and the caitiff proceed to have a brief expository conversation from which we learn that:

– Caitiffs are apparently respected members of vampire society as Pavel bows to him in accordance to the vampire etiquette. In VtM, Caitiffs are routinely dismissed, exploited or driven away by clan vampires since they have no one to speak for them.

– The caitiff is called Sergei Petrovitch, and his “Night Name” is Shesraad. As you may guess, there is no such thing as Night Name in VtM because it’s stupid. It’s not that stupid yet, but believe me, when we get to that one scene, you’ll see. You will all see.

– Sergei is A-OK with Pavel killing five people, which leads to them becoming fast sociopath buddies.

– Sergei is also really old and contributed to something called New Chronicle. So, he’s a GMPC, got it.

– Pavel is a Malkavian. For those who don’t know, Malkavians are insane prophets of the vampires. They normally turn people who already suffer from mental disorders, but even perfectly healthy people would get mental problems from their cursed blood. Malkavians are… not an example of a good treatment of mentally ill people in media. The way they are portrayed encouraged quite a few players to embrace the Fish Malk behavior: random nonsense actions “justified” by voices in their heads telling them to do it and such, which end up spoiling the fun for everyone else, especially GMs. You may think that’s what going on here, that Pavel is afflicted with sociopathy due to his clan, and that his amoral behavior was intentional on author’s part, if not well-executed. But nope, it’s not the case. I’ll return to it later, but basically Pavel is fully responsible for everything he does.

After those fascinating revelations, Pavel finally makes way to his parents (and sister, as we learn now) and proceeds to have a rather terse conversation where his father throws “bloodsucker” insult around. He refuses to eat normal food, his father insists, so he tells him he just ate five people, which naturally provokes a volatile reaction. The scene ends with Pavel’s sister, Elena, throwing a blessed golden cross at him, which he easily deflects with a dagger he apparently has, and laughs off the whole thing. Still, good try here, Elena, you are my new favorite.

Hey, you know how in VtM becoming a vampire is that huge thing that changes your life forever? Once you are a vampire, you are dead, and not just physically. It’s hard to keep something like this secret from people close to you, and old vampires tend to be paranoid about maintaining the Masquerade, so normally becoming a vampire means leaving your old life behind. And even after you move to a new place where nobody could recognize you and nobody would ask about your late hours, the vampiric nature would still most likely mean keeping humans away from you. Vampires can pretend to be alive, can pretend to be a part of the society, but in the end it’s just that: pretending. A game for some, a convenience for others, a desperate attempt to reclaim what is irrevocably lost for quite a few.

It’s a major theme for VtM, and a major source of conflicts, both internal and external. So naturally this book is interested in it not one bit. Pavel’s family know about his nature, and they are presented as evil assholes, unreasonably demanding that he would return his debt to society (granted, by working on dacha, which is not exactly what I would call “returning a debt for many deaths”) and insulting him for being a murderer. And of course they don’t even really have a problem with him. They are just jealous. The narration says so openly. Because that’s what matters here: Pavel is good but unjustly picked on by his evil evil family. Who are mostly likely terrified shitless of him, and channel that terror into anger.

Moving on.

Pavel decides not to kill them all, a decision that was hard for him to make, as the narration helpfully informs us, and instead retreats to his room. Here he lies awake, unable to sleep with so much fresh blood in his veins, so instead he picks a mundane-looking book, which changes into Vampire History under his Sight of the Night, and settles for some quality reading.

With that, we are mercifully moved into Alexei’s head. Please, Alexei, be a moderately moral person. I don’t ask much. Just be better than Pavel, it’s not hard.

Alexei successfully gets to a safe house. That’s all that happens in this segment, plus some flashbacks. At least he isn’t horrible? Just boring.

Anyway, the flashback deals with how Alexei became a Hunter. Basically, one day he started seeing vampires everywhere, walking among humans with nobody noticing either them or corpses they leave behind. That’s a good horror concept, actually. Unfortunately, it’s just told to ask, fast and matter-of-fact, which ruins any possible tension or creeping terror.

So, Alexei started to see vampires, then Hunters found him and proposed to join them since they are always on a lookout for people with his talent. No clarification on how they managed to find him, they just did.

There are two other potentially interesting titbits in the flashback:

– Hunters are big on believing in God, and ascribe their ability to hunt vampires to His blessings. Fair enough.

– Hunters sometimes deal with werewolves and mages, but very rarely because mages and werewolves are apparently dying out. I guess Technocracy is hard at work in this fic. Maybe they hook up with Weaver? Damn, now I want to know about them instead of following a sociopath and a slowpoke.

That’s all for now, stay tuned for more. There will be much to discuss once I get to the vampire “tests.”

5 Comments

  1. Rowen says:
    Yeah, I remember reading Harry Potter knock-offs when I was a kid. Tanya Grotter series was awful (I’ve read 8 books, twice), but Porry Gatter was surprisingly good.
    1. illhousen says:
      Yeah, I was thinking about Tanya Grotter. The author of this one tried to publish it somewhere in the West and was sued by Rowling, as I recall.

      For another knock-off, I was thinking Kids against Wizards (Дети против Волшебников) because it’s a very special brand of batshit insanity that is not easy to forget.

  2. the_whittler says:
    There’s a side quest in Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, the VtM video game, which involves taking care of a pretentious and rather annoying aspiring writer who basically transcribed the lore of VtM as a manuscript. The game somewhat presents that guy as unaware that he was directly plagiarizing since he explains he and his friend, whose a Thinblood, bounce ideas all the time, so the writer has no clue that his manuscript is a direct violation of the Masquerade. I wonder if this novel had anything to do with the developers making that side quest?

    Why is the Caitiff “respected”? Even within the twisted lore of this novel, it doesn’t make sense! Why would other vampires respect somebody who didn’t pass the “vampire test”? Never mind the stupidity of having a “vampire test” in the first place.

    Maybe Pavel is so immoral because he’s closer to the Beast? I mean, it does seem like frenzies often enough. But since the Sabbat are no longer in commission, all the other vampires should be looking to put him down like the feral animal he is. How is this walking Masquerade-violation even alive?!

    Actually, I’m rather a big fan of Malkavians. I’m with you on your distaste for malkfishes because Malkavians are more than special-snowflake cloudcuckoolanders and I hate players that equate insanity into kookiness. Mental illness isn’t fun; it’s ugly, messy, and a handicap at best.

    VtM:B, the video game I was talking about, had some really good Malk characters though. Therese Voerman, for example, is a Malk who you potentially think might have megalomania as her insanity, but it turns out she has a severe case of split personality. She and her twin sister, Jeanette, are one and the same person. And it’s not presented as fun and kooky at all. She is at constant war with herself, battling with past trauma and guilt the other personality keeps mudslinging at the other. She is supremely self-destructive with each of her sides constantly sabotaging the other’s plans. At the end of her story arc, Therese is pointing a gun at her “sister” and wants to get rid of her, but knowing that they’re the same person, she’s basically about to commit suicide because of her mental illness. It’s all very tragic, nuanced and, most of all, messed up. (Grey DeLisle deserves particular props for her amazing voice work.) Though VtM:B has some kinks to work out in the portrayal of Malks (particularly if the PC decides to be a Malk. Yikes, PC Malk is beyond fishy), even the Nosferatu in VtM:B emphasize that the insanity Malks have is a CURSE that no one wants to have.

    To quote a veteran storyteller: “Malkavians aren’t goth manic pixie dream girls. They’re the people you meet on the subway who, though you’re not sure why, you instinctively know has bodies buried in their basement. They’re the homeless person dragging a naked, headless mannequin of the sidewalk. They’re the people you never want to look in the eye because you’re afraid of what they’ll do if they catch you staring.”

    1. illhousen says:
      “I wonder if this novel had anything to do with the developers making that side quest?”

      Nah, the book was published after the game was released. I’d suspect the author first became aware of VtM through it, if anything.

      Plus, it’s not a big hit or anything, and to my knowledge the author didn’t try to publish it outside of Russia, so it’s unlikely to be known to devs either way.

      “Why is the Caitiff “respected”? Even within the twisted lore of this
      novel, it doesn’t make sense! Why would other vampires respect somebody
      who didn’t pass the “vampire test”? Never mind the stupidity of having a
      “vampire test” in the first place.”

      We are told later that caitiffs do suffer some vague oppression, though no details are given. They still get the cure, and their mobility doesn’t seem to be restricted, so I don’t know what that “oppression” is. The lack of support and cushy jobs from Camarilla?

      Anyway, it still doesn’t make much sense because seriously, why would they intentionally create people with a grudge against them, some knowledge of their workings and a potential to achieve power comparable with them? If you really want to test new vampires, kill them if they fail. It’s Oppression 101.

      “Actually, I’m rather a big fan of Malkavians. I’m with you on your
      distaste for malkfishes because Malkavians are more than
      special-snowflake cloudcuckoolanders and I hate players that equate
      insanity into kookiness. Mental illness isn’t fun; it’s ugly, messy, and
      a handicap at best.”

      Malkavians can be played well, but it’s a rare sight. The source material itself is pretty flawed when it comes to their portrayal, so it’s not something unexpected. I like when they are portrayed as taking in mentally disturbed people for whom nobody else would care and actually trying to help and empower them, even though their methods are flawed.

      As for Bloodlines, I have some issues with Therese portrayal, specifically how her psychosis ties with sexuality and her backstory, but the core idea is good.

      1. the_whittler says:
        ” I have some issues with Therese portrayal, specifically how her psychosis ties with sexuality and her backstory, but the core idea is good.”

        Oh, definitely. When discussing the first act, I tend to say: “Forget Jeanette. It’s Therese that’s interesting.” I don’t like the way Jeanette is used as obvious wank fodder, and it is disturbing how much she’s infantilized on top of all that. But at least Jeanette’s personality plays into Therese’s sexual repression and her sexual abuse as a child which she never had a chance to heal and was severely twisted on account of being turned into an undead abomination.

        “The source material itself is pretty flawed when it comes to their portrayal, so it’s not something unexpected.”

        The Clan Book for Malkavians in a literal joke, so it’s no wonder people make lolrandom characters. However, if there’s one thing I like to use from the clan book, it’s that the supposed Malkavian insight isn’t actually real. It’s a defense mechanism so that the Camarilla will keep the Malkavians around despite their insanity.

        Mental illness is a hard concept to play around with, what with the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding it. That’s why I prefer to think it’s better to say Malkavians are insane rather than mentally ill, in the same vein that vampires aren’t diseased but are actually dead.

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