THE RENFIELD SYNDROME (Rhiannon's Law #2)
Received from author for review
Warning: Contains spoilers from Dead, Undead, or Somewhere in Between.
Rhiannon should have known better than to enter into negotiations with a demon, even if she was trying to help vampire boyfriend Disco. Now she's one hundred and one years in the future with scarily few ideas on how to return to her own time. All she knows is she needs to get a message to Disco per the demon's request in order to settle the debt he owed, and given his immortality, she should be able to find him in this future world.
Before she can set out in search of Disco, Rhiannon finds herself intercepted by a team of black-clad men with sizable weaponry and is forcibly escorted to their compound. Here, she's informed majority of the human population has been wiped out by something called The Renfield Syndrome, and those who aren't dead are in servitude to the vampires who have taken over.
Rhiannon eventually convinces their leader, Carter, to aid her in her search for Disco while repeatedly spurning his advances, but what she finds in this new future threatens to destroy her. With the help of some old friends, Rhiannon struggles through the numbness of her new reality but vows to return to her time and prevent this future from ever coming to pass.
The Renfield Syndrome is a challenging read, not in the sense it’s difficult to understand or navigate, but in the way it affects us emotionally, forcing us to face events and situations along with Rhiannon that turn us inside out and lay us uncomfortably bare with our soft underbellies blatantly exposed. Ms. Saare, though it’s crystal clear how important her characters are to her, is not the type to write a story in which she’s content to hold our hand by following up tragic events with soothing words and meaningless murmurs that everything will work out as it’s supposed to. Instead, she allows things to unfold in ways that are painful and raw and have us walking away from Rhiannon’s tale just to seek brief sanctuary in our reality, but ultimately we are forced to return and put our hands back in the fire for the simple reason we cannot bear to allow Rhiannon to face it alone. Despite being the product of simple letters put together to form words and then sentences, the characters and world are undeniably tangible and our experiences with them far more real than vicarious in nature.
Rhiannon is the same smart-mouthed woman we met and fell in love with in Dead, Undead or Somewhere in Between, her no-nonsense attitude making the 101 year leap through time with no difficulty. What is so appealing about Rhiannon is the vulnerability thriving beneath the tough exterior, her skin able to be punctured as easily as anyone else’s if one knows just where to strike. Her body’s haunted topography of puckered scars serves as a reminder to us of both her unbelievable strength but also her weakness, and we watch in horror in this installment as the one person trusted with this physical map to her soul betrays her more intimately than the repeated violations responsible for the marks themselves. Our hearts belong entirely to Rhiannon in this tale, her pain ours as we suffer together.
Introduced to us in this alternative future Rhiannon finds herself in is another love interest, a man we’ve met before and adored but whom we never thought a romantic threat. Ms. Saare manages to beautifully avoid the petty drama that often surrounds a love triangle (though that hardly seems a fitting term for this particular situation), elevating it out of the superficial stages of a dual attraction to two men and plunging us head first into the depths of pain, love, and torment all heartbreakingly combined into something we never expected. While we might tell ourselves Rhiannon’s choices are wrong and her decision to act as she does misguided, the entire situation is written in a way that makes her relationship with this newest man feel so disconcertingly right that we find any anger we’ve mustered melt away in a haze of confusion. We are left with a churning mess of an emotional reservoir, one that begins to spill over the edges and drown us in torn allegiances as we struggle to separate the chaos into recognizable feelings.
The Renfield Syndrome will be a story that many will love but is also one that will most likely give many a reader pause, Rhiannon’s actions and the actions of those around her creating a visceral and gritty reading experience. This is not a story we walk away from feeling light and happy, rather we carry the emotional weight of it for weeks after reading. Ms. Saare isn’t afraid to leave a mark on her characters or her readers, and even as we wallow in pain wishing she would make it stop, we silently thank her for drawing us in so deeply.