Initial Thoughts: I never owned or read this when I was young, which is a pity, because I would have been completely into it.

Everything below the cover picture contains spoilers.

This felt a little off-brand for Dark Forces, to be honest, because aside from some confusion over whether the hero’s teammates might be Satanists (spoiler: they aren’t), there’s really nothing demonic here, strictly speaking. I mean, I suppose vampires are sort of demonic? But it lacked that Satanic-panic, call-Ed-and-Lorraine vibe that the other Dark Forces books (at least the few I’ve read) are saturated with.

Cast of Characters: For the entirety of the first chapter, next to no one has a name. There’s an unnamed unconscious gymnast, an unnamed doctor, an unnamed inexperienced nurse, and an unnamed desk nurse. Very briefly there’s a gymnastics troupe leader called Leonard Avilov, who orders someone called Stacie to perform, but mostly we’re adrift in a nameless town filled with nameless people. It was a hell of a relief when the first two words of chapter two were “Bob Lindquist.”

So, cast of characters:

  • Bob Lindquist, gymnast
  • Stacie Kuragina, who invites him to audition for the Icarus Group,
  • which is managed by Leonard Avilov
  • Jana McKeon, Bob’s girlfriend
  • Hank Lindquist, Bob’s father, seen briefly in chapter 3
  • Bob’s unnamed coach
  • Lou Lindquist, Bob’s mother, also seen briefly in chapter 3
  • Lamia, gymnast; Gweon, gymnast; Bram, Yves, Christos, all gymnasts; other unnamed gymnasts
  • Jennifer, gymnast, but also VICTIM, and probably deserves her own line

Recap: The first chapter, in spite of the floaty namelessness, is awesome. A gymnast passes out mid-performance, is sent to hospital, is found to have an abnormally low blood count, and attacks a nurse.

I’m calling it now: vampires. Right? Gymnastics vampires. I’m hooked already.

Just like in a 70s after-school special about drugs, the gymnast leaps out of a 14th-floor window. Unlike most after-school specials, he spends his last moments screaming about how the hospital staff are “full of blood” and going to hell (I mean, he says the hospital staff are going to hell, not “he spends his last moments going to hell,” although possibly he does that too). I suppose, to be fair, all that could also be down to drugs.

Moving on. Bob Lindquist is a gymnast with Olympic aspirations, so he initially turns down Stacie’s offer to join the Icarus Group as a replacement for the guy who just collapsed during their performance. (“We’re looking for another male gymnast. We just lost someone.” Yikes. Cold, Stacie.)

But Stacie convinces him he can keep his amateur ranking, and he wants to see her again, so he breaks his Sunday night pizza date and goes to watch them practice. I guess the troupe works like an 80s-style cult, complete with flirty fishing. Also, though: what’s with this thing in 80s novels of teenagers having standard dates? It shows up a lot in Sweet Valley, and Bob and Jana are obviously in the kind of dating rut you’d expect from their parents.

As she danced along the beam, Stacie Kuragina showed an elasticity and self-assurance Jana McKeon would never possess.

Suddenly Bob was angry with himself. Why was he comparing the two girls? It wasn’t like him.

p. 16

Bob doesn’t feel Avilov was impressed with his audition–even though he’s done his absolute best ever–but once Bob convinces his parents to let him join the troupe, he’s invited to meet up with them. So, he’s in! I guess.

Chapter Three marks the first and only appearance of Bob’s parents, for the record. As the book progresses he stops returning calls or trying to write letters, and kind of gradually drifts away from his old life. In this chapter we also sort of meet Jana (she and his parents drive Bob to the airport), but she doesn’t speak or anything, just sheds a single tear.

Bob didn’t have to look around to find them. In their bright, eccentric clothing they looked like a band of gypsies, or hippies left over from the Woodstock era. Except, of course, that none of them could have been at Woodstock–they would have been too young.


Dun dun DUN. Vampires, for sure.

Eight days into his summer of touring with the group, Bob has an entirely unsatisfying payphone call with Jana. He manages to tell her that the Icarus members are “quirky,” but doesn’t describe their anachronistic clothes or the part where they’re entirely nocturnal. Then he runs out of change and promises he’ll write. I could (and possibly did) scream with frustration. I used to cram more pertinent information than that into payphone calls without paying. Seriously. My mother got countless calls that said, “You have a collect call from “We’re at the mall by the theatre pick us up at nine,” do you accept the charges?” and she’d say no and hang up and pick us up at nine.

Anyway. Jana has no details that would hint at vampirism. Meanwhile the other guys in the group argue about how much Bob does or doesn’t resemble Tony Haida, some gymnast they all seem to remember. But when Bob looks him up (in his book of Olympic records, because no internet), Tony Haida was a gold medallist from 1904.

Jennifer, the only other newbie in the group, cuts her hand in the back of a rental van and the others are weird and quiet about it.

Jennifer performs badly and Avilov is strict and demanding, and this goes on for a bunch of chapters. Bob, however, manages to concentrate and do well, so he gets permission to perform with the group (up until now he’s been attending the nighttime practices but hasn’t been in any shows). The next show is in Saint Louis, where Tony Haida won gold. I kind of thought this would be a bigger deal somehow, but this is the last time Tony gets mentioned.

“Good luck,” Stacie said again.

Her breath was cool and moist. There was something rich and metallic in it, something that reminded him pleasantly of freshly turned earth.

p. 41

I genuinely don’t know which is creepier: her breath smelling like “freshly tuned earth” or Bob finding that pleasant. What the hell, Bob.

Bob still hasn’t written Jana, though he’s had several letters from her, and she’s tried to call him (but he’s been asleep every time, because of the nocturnal gymnastics [not a euphemism]). No one else in Icarus gets any mail, ever.

Bob performs perfectly in St. Louis, but is disappointed not to see Stacie or Avilov afterwards. He thinks they’ve missed his debut performance, but actually Stacie’s persuading Avilov that they need to celebrate Bob’s performance by going to a disco.

Jennifer, by the way, screwed up her performance; her nerves have been shot, and she’s getting worse instead of better under Avilov’s curt, demanding instruction. So when Avilov says he’s taking her back to the hotel because she’s tired, I immediately assume Jennifer is about to die.

I’ve jumped the gun, though. Jennifer’s still alive, but she’s thin and zombie-like. Also, now the hotel is crawling with police because an usher has gone missing. An…usher? Don’t those belong in theatres? Bob doesn’t know anything about the guy’s disappearance but wants to talk to the police because “maybe we can help.” Avilov says that if he does, Bob’s out of the troupe. I’m on creepy Avilov’s side for once: don’t waste police resources when you literally know nothing about what happened, Bob.

Bob writes Jana a letter but doesn’t tell her anything about what’s going on, because he knows she’d tell him to trust his instincts and leave. But he doesn’t want to leave because he’s making progress with his performances, plus already he dreads “losing” Stacie at the end of the summer. Uh, not really yours to lose, Bob.

Jennifer’s hand–that she cut two weeks ago–isn’t healed at all, and she looks worse than ever. But at least the police are gone. The usher was found after three days, drunk, in a supply closet. He was delirious and literally couldn’t remember his own name, but I guess the police are done investigating.

While the troupe are in Kansas, a bunch of cattle are found drained of blood. Bob laughs at the newspaper reports attributing this to aliens, and Stacie gets mad at him for not believing it.

Next up, Oklahoma:

It took them almost an hour to reach the hotel. Avilov was in a restless, nervous mood. He kept checking his watch and urging the driver to cut through traffic. By the time they gathered in the hotel lobby, the sky was turning pale. There was a delay in arranging their rooms.

“Don’t you understand?” Avilov screamed at the flustered desk clerk. “These people are gymnasts! They need to sleep–sleep!”

p. 61

Of course he doesn’t understand, weirdo; gymnasts aren’t supposed to be nocturnal. On the other hand, if it got me checked in faster I’d be happy to travel with gymnasts. Or vampires. Or gymnast vampires.

Bob orders a Coke from room service but falls asleep before it arrives. He has a disturbing dream in which Stacie is leaning over him, and she has a barbed tongue and sharp teeth. He wakes up and his door is ajar.

Because he has the survival instincts of a moth, he falls back asleep and is woken three hours later by a call from room service asking about the Coke he ordered. Bob realizes the room service guy has gone missing, storms off to question Avilov, and finds a bloodstain on the hall carpet.

That would have been you, dipshit, if room service hadn’t shown up to be Stacie’s snack instead.

By the end of the week Bob manages to find out that the room service guy ended up in hospital, where he needed “so much blood–almost a total replacement” according to a hotel waitress. But the plot is really hurtling along now, and the room service incident has been entirely pushed out of the news by the kidnapping-and-return of three infants, all suffering acute anemia when they’re found.

Why hadn’t he realized it before? They were members of a cult–a cult of Satanists, and Avilov was their leader!

p. 66

Eh, close enough. It is the 80s, after all.

The troupe go to New Orleans and stay in Avilov’s mansion, Bob included, which seems weird now that he thinks they’re baby-stealing Satanists. Stacie swans around in long, old-fashioned dresses and talks about Napoleon’s invasion of Moscow in a trembling voice, and the others dance minuets to harpsichord music, and Bob still doesn’t get it. I don’t know, maybe he thinks Satanists are a lot more elevated than they actually are?

The increasingly-weak Jennifer falls during practice, and Bob can tell from her open, staring eyes that she’s dead.

Avilov lies that she’s resting and won’t let Bob visit her, and meanwhile, the rest of the troupe are celebrating something (but they won’t say what).

That night Bob pretends to take the sleeping pills Stacie gives him. Instead he spies on the troupe and watches them shower Jennifer’s body with blood from a dead bird (Stacie spits it all over her, for extra grossness) and then bury her.

Bob ends up hiding under Avilov’s bed (that’s got to be a metaphor, surely). When daylight comes and Avilov is asleep, Bob sees his fangs and finally realizes the troupe are vampires. Gymnastics vampires.

Bob tries to escape, which I would have done several chapters ago. Stacie attacks him and nearly kills him by “taking too much blood.”

Luckily she and Avilov have lots of conversations in front of Bob while they think he’s unconscious. Bob continues faking weakness while secretly trying to regain his strength, because he’s heard enough to know that Stacie wants to turn him so he can stay with the troupe (as opposed to killing him outright). Eventually he’s well enough to watch the troupe perform, and Stacie has a surprise for him: there’s a new troupe member.

It’s Jana, Bob’s girlfriend from so long ago I’d forgotten her.

She’s been bitten, and is all obsessed with Avilov (and with how much she’s improving as a gymnast) and won’t listen to any of Bob’s warnings when he finally gets to talk to her. Look, Bob, if you’d given even the faintest warning on the phone or in a letter she wouldn’t be here now.

Jana is hilarious in her obliviousness, though.

“I have to go,” she said haughtily. “Leonard’s teaching me to play the harpsichord. But I suppose you’d call that eccentric.”

p. 109

Bob decides the only way to save Jana is to destroy Avilov, and plans to do this while the troupe are in New York. They’re staying in a hotel on Roosevelt Island, and Avilov will only let them use public transit, because he doesn’t like to split the troupe up into cabs.

So Bob eventually hatches a plan: he’ll pull the emergency brakes when they’re on the subway ride home, delaying them enough for the sun to rise.

It almost doesn’t work; Avilov hustles them off the stalled subway and along the tracks, and pays for a tramway car, which is a little gondola-car thing, to get them back to the island. Bob despairs, knowing they’ll beat the sunrise because it’s still minutes away.

But. The gondola rises in an arc over the East River, putting them high enough over the buildings that dawn sunlight floods into the car.

The vampires take several satisfying moments to die creepily, pounding frantically at the glass while coming apart and disintegrating into dust.

Bob and Jana step out of the cable car on the other side, the only survivors, and…I guess everything’s all right now? I would personally loved to have seen whatever awkward conversation they have next, but alas, the book ends here.

Final Thoughts: That was awesome. I have a lot of concerns about Bob and Jana’s relationship, though. It would be hellishly awkward to date someone when you’re both aware that you each preferred a vampire to the person you’re actually with, but since you watch those alternate partners die grisly deaths in front of you, now you’re together. Talk about settling, geez.