If you are a fan of the Netflix animated adaptation of Castlevania (2017-2021), and thought it was entirely undeserved that Sypha Belnades and Trevor Belmont left their friend Alucard behind in a cold, lonely castle while they adventured across the wide world, then Rin Chupeco offers a balm for the soul with their alternative polyamorous power trio in this fresh and compelling take on the vampire genre. A prolific author of YA series such as The Bone Witch (2017-2019) and The Never-Tilting World (2019-2022), Silver Under Nightfall is Rin Chupeco’s debut in the adult speculative arena and the first of a duology. Chupeco leans deeply into the rich decadence and dangerous allure that makes the vampire genre so enduring, and adds their own spin with queer romance, a multicultural world, and an exploration of issues of consent, trauma, recovery, and debts owed to one’s family and country.
In the fog-shrouded kingdom of Aluria, elite vampire hunter Remington “Remy” Pendergast is alienated from both the upper echelons of high society and the ranks of the “Reapers.” Remy is seen as a spectacle and an outcast, the only son of the legendary hunter Edgar Pendergast, the Duke of Valenbonne, and a foreign mother—whose untimely death is shrouded in mystery and rumours of elopement with a vampire, leading to fear and suspicion that Remy himself may have vampire lineage. Much of his life is controlled by his ailing and still ambitious father, who instilled in him a commitment to protecting the kingdom at all costs. Remy’s situation changes drastically when he catches the attention of warm-hearted vampire heiress Song Xiaodan and her forbidding fiancé, the vampire lord Zidan Malekh, who are visiting Aluria to establish an alliance between their vampire courts and the human kingdom. Meanwhile, there is a mysterious rot ravaging the land, turning humans into a new and terrifying breed of vampire that is nigh indestructible and seems to be controlled by an unknown dark force. As the situation worsens, Xiaodan and Zidan recruit Remy to assist in the investigation—and he finds that he has begun to fall for them both in turn. Now, the unlikely trio must work together to discover the root cause of the rot and end the conspiracy that threatens to destroy both the vampire and human societies from within.
The quasi-Regency setting is laden with political intrigue, thrilling action sequences, and a deep and uneasy history of wars and truces between vampire and human society. Chupeco sets up a sprawling world with a multiplicity of kingdoms, each with its own distinct culture and method of dealing with rogue vampires, as well as an intricate vampire social hierarchy divided into territorial courts. The focus is on the kingdom of Aluria and the neighbouring Qing-ye, but there are also tantalising glimpses of other kingdoms and different social structures—everything from the nomadic Third Court to the trade of ginseng and mangosteens and the naming of locations in Qing-yen (a language that borrows directly from Mandarin) using diacritics. The depiction of vampire society and the makeup of Alurian high society pay tribute to European iterations of the vampire myth, but the inclusion of Chinese and Southeast Asian elements, especially in the considerable time spent in Qing-ye and on the defence of Xiaodan’s home, allows the narrative to resist any singular cultural depiction. For example, save for one instance in an Alurian newspaper, Xiaodan’s full name is always presented surname first, in line with Chinese naming convention. Similarly, the scattered use of the Qing-yen language is not always translated for the unspeaking reader, and is instead left to be understood via context and as an embrace of bilingual readers. It is an approach to worldbuilding that acknowledges the vast reach of vampiric entities across various societies, reflected in a story-world that is neither monolithic nor made of binary opposites, but instead comprises a plurality of cultures.
Chupeco creates a hypnotic and cinematic atmosphere in their narrative, employing lyrical prose and sharp dialogue to blend society ballrooms with scientific research, eerie woods and winding caves with castles and courts. The assortment of weapons and magical skills on display is extremely cool—from Remy’s spinning, multi-bladed Breaker to Xiaodan’s abilities as a “sunbringer,” a “vampire who could manifest the very thing capable of its own destruction” (p. 82)—and these keep the many battles exciting to follow. The trio’s travels take them to various borderland villages and towns, where Remy sees both the ignorant fear and discrimination of the locals, as well as the possibilities that may exist for vampire and human coexistence outside the rigid confines of the capital and the Reapers.
Despite its wildly exciting start, the story does, however, have an unsatisfying second half, leading to a rather abrupt series of climactic revelations. As much as I loved the lively characters and was drawn in to the murder mystery that initiated Remy’s collaboration with the vampires, the repetition of the travel-and-enemy-ambush structure wore on me after a while. Various revelations cement Remy’s importance in the narrative but these are circumstantial, and few are of his own making. Chupeco has described Remy as a himbo character, which I understand may be an endearing quality but leaves him in a weaker narrative position as the audience surrogate.
This is doubly tricky because, told from Remy’s point of view, the narrative is character-centric and the main trio are the heart of its appeal. The sexual tension and deepening relationship between Remy, Xiaodan, and Zidan is, though, delicious to witness. Remy has long been belittled for his heritage, his accomplishments dismissed and his body used as a vehicle for his father’s ambitions—both on the battlefield and in the beds of high society women who spill their husbands’ secrets. Xiaodan and Zidan are excellent complements; despite their contrasting natures, they care deeply for each other and their political and personal motivations are well aligned. She is a lightning-fast warrior with a pacifist streak and a fierce protectiveness towards her people, and he hides a soft heart underneath his scientific curiosity and quick temper.
Unusually, neither Xiaodan nor Zidan carry ideas of vampire superiority over humans; they are friends with Aluria’s queen and willing to collaborate with humans to achieve medical and political breakthroughs—and treat Remy more humanely than many of his mortal peers. Xiaodan is openly interested in Remy after seeing his kindness at their first interaction; Zidan and Remy’s dynamic is built on more antagonistic lines after their first clash in the field. Yet when the two of them approach Remy, they are clear that they will cherish him as an equal in their relationship and that his willing participation and comfort is paramount to them. It is a refreshing gesture of honesty and respect towards a character who has only known infidelity before and has had little chance to choose his own partners. It is also a depiction of open and healthy communication rare to see in vampire fiction and narrative romances as a whole.
Nevertheless, the promise of equality in their relationship falls a bit short in execution. While Remy and the vampires reach a point of mutual trust and love on a private level, in the field Remy is constantly left in the dark, relying on exposition-heavy narration from other characters to be brought up to speed. He consequently and repeatedly reacts belatedly to events. What Xiaodan and Zidan offer to a lonely, self-depreciating hunter with a chip on his shoulder is quite clearly illustrated, and their constant affirmation of his worth and his place at their side is a convincing step on his path to healing; the argument for Remy’s contribution to the triumvirate, outside of sexual fulfilment and stubborn persistence, is less clear. Still, it was heartening to see Remy draw on their support to confront the ghosts of his family legacy and the debt he feels he owes to his father, and eventually allow himself the kindness that he shows so readily to others.
The assorted secondary characters hold their own, too: my favourite is Remy’s secret vampire friend, Elke, a blacksmith and weapons innovator whom he helped to hide among humans. Every character felt real and particular, with a vivid sense of their motives and personalities, even those that only made an appearance for brief scenes. Chupeco consistently brings to light the monstrosity of mortals and the humanity of vampires, raising questions of what the line is between these two societies and what it means to be human. Of particular note was the exploration of Remy’s relationship with his father, who has used him to terrible lengths to maintain their family’s power, but whom Remy sees as his last living family to whom he owes a duty. The tangle of resentment, guilt, and desire to reconcile and find approval in his father’s eyes, woven in with Remy’s sense of obligation towards Aluria despite its poor treatment of him, proved excellent fodder for conflict as Remy grew closer to vampire society. At the end of the novel, Remy finally sees—and admits to himself—the true colours of his father and of Alurian society, and I look forward to how this shapes his duties, loyalties, and choices in the sequel.
Despite its bumpy pace, then, Silver Under Nightfall packs a powerful punch in its ambition, its joyous queerness, and its revelry and subversion of many vampire fiction staples. It is a wild, wicked, and welcome addition to the ranks of vampire fantasy novels.