Mouth full of ashes - by Briana Morgan
Updated: Jan 7, 2022
I read somewhere online, whilst awaiting the release of Mouth full of ashes, that Briana’s vampire novel was her love letter to The Lost Boys, which, for those of you who don’t know it, was an iconic vampire movie released in 1987. Now I saw The Lost boys in the cinema when it came out, but that was a long, long, long time ago. The plot of the movie kind of faded in my memory, to scenes – the group of vampires falling from a bridge into mist, that kind of thing. Punk-dressed vampires, Kiefer Sutherland, big hairstyles.
80’s, but cool 80’s.
Let’s cut back to MFOA. You can definitely see the film’s influence on the book, to the point, it is almost fan-fiction. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, it’s acknowledged by Briana how much of an influence the film was for her. Themes abound in the book that are direct references to the movie. The set-up is similar – two young adults and their mother move to a new town. The Vampires in the town “trick” their would-be victims by getting them to drink blood from a bottle. The lead vampire is dating their mother. One of the family knows that vampires exist already. A “half-turned vampire” helps the siblings. To stop turning into full vampires, they have to kill the head vampire. It’s pretty much the film script but with touches of modernization added by Briana – The MC is a lesbian/Bi – her love interest is a half-turned female vampire. Her brother is Gay, his love interest is a male vampire. The half-turned vampires (I think of them as vague vegetarian vampires (VVV)) exist by not killing humans, rather draining smaller mammals, like cats. It’s pretty PC but well-meant, and I think it brings the story into the 2020s in a positive way.
The writing is minimalistic. Briana has focused on internal thought, dialogue, and action. In that respect, it caters to the modern palette, this is all about moving the story on, pacing, and character development through dialogue – the sympathy one feels for the characters is made because of how they think, or what they say. Scene setting, description of place, mood highlighting – it all gets dropped for the speed of the action. You may not notice it because you are too busy turning the pages.
Morgan builds her novel from a solid ground – the first scene revolves around a car accident and the death of a sibling as the other two MCs are in the car that crashes. So, a big part of our feeling for the MC’S is based around sympathy for them, and understanding the tragedy of their guilt. And it’s a great opener, Briana cuts straight to the chase, so to speak, and sets the pace for the entire novel – break-neck speed.
With so many similarities to The Lost Boys, even a passing knowledge of the film leaves the casual reader in no doubt as to the reveals that arrive. To emphasize the point again, that isn’t a bad thing necessarily – when they happened I was more like – “oh yeah. That’s right – that happened”. So, it had a kind of warm fuzzy feel to it all.
However – The lost boys played to an 80’s audience. The vague threat of Vampirism in that film worked through visual effects. Here, we are living in the 2020s, and this audience requires more graphic violence. In the novel, the vampires – don’t actually do anything. They are never seen to kill anyone. It is implied that they have killed all of the missing children from the area, we even get that confirmed from one of the characters, but we don’t see it. It’s almost Hitchcockian in presentation. No vampire kills anyone, drains anyone, is sadistic against anyone – hence my categorizing them as “vague vegetarian vampires”. Yes, we see them kill a cat, and yes, we see them use compulsion to get people to do things, but they lack threat. The two main villains, Elijah, and his father fail to be the big bad boss duo promised, due to inaction. The final fight scene is never shown, we blackout with the MC to wake up and the problem to have been resolved. So, whilst we never really feel the threat of the vampires, to an extent we are also deprived of our payoff – seeing the mastermind get his comeuppance.
Now that’s probably cherry-picking, and I want to clarify there’s a difference from what I wanted to see compared with what happened, and this book is definitely catering more to a YA crowd. Briana’s dialogue is modern, it’s funny, hip, unapologetically coarse towards the end of the book – it fits that age bracket, so her characters are spot on. And it is over in a flash, literally. Flow is not an issue, we ride the rollercoaster to its end and are amazed that it is over already. So, it’s a page-turner, undeniably. I just wish it had been twice as long and we would have seen someone’s throat ripped out. It says a lot that the only death we see is Elijah’s, as he is “staved”.
I’m giving this a 3.5 rounded up to 4 ⭐‘s out of 5 - on Goodreads because Briana is a genuinely lovely person, and this book is full of heart, representative of both gay and lesbian relationships, and you can just feel the love for The Lost Boys leaping from the page...
And my 80's rebel self thought Kiefer Sutherland nailed it.
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