The first volume of this story moves between the 1880's and the 1920's. It begins in the twenties with the story of Pearl, a young aspiring actress living in Los Angeles. In between picking up bit parts in movies, Pearl works several odd jobs to make her rent. When she gets a big break - an invitation to a party by a successful director, Pearl believes that her hard work has finally paid off and that she's going to get her big break. Pearl's gets a break alright but it leads to the end of her human life.
Volume One then takes a step back to look at the life and death of the infamous outlaw Skinner Sweet. Just as his last name implies, Sweet, loves candy and he combines this with his love of robbing banks, violence and sleeping with prostitutes. Sweet is not even remotely at this point an anti-hero, let alone all around good guy.
Sweet is Pearl's sire but the connection runs a lot deeper than that. Because they are both a new breed of vampire, the sun has no effect upon them and the old guard, (read:European Vampires) want them gone. Sweet and Pearl represent a contamination of the blood and if that were not enough, this so-called contamination means that no one knows what they are vulnerable to. Sweet and Pearl absolutely have a target on their backs but the tie that binds them is deeper still even if it is ridiculous.
Volume one is written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King and the difference in the writing is evident from the start. Clearly, King wanted to step away from vampires that sparkle. One guess as to who?
It's hardly surprising given King's very adamant dislike of Twilight, based in the idea that it's "tweenager porn" and his belief that Stephanie Meyer "can't write worth a darn". It feels as though Sweet's story is an absolute refutation of the sparkly vampire. Sweet is most certainly not a vegetarian and he glorifies in violence. He works his own agenda and simply cannot be tamed. It's clear that Sweet is not a man to be taken lightly and certainly not a man to run into even casually. He is bound to no one and serves his own end. In fact, the creation of Pearl is about the only good thing that he does in this volume and it's clear an ulterior motive exists for this action.
Despite King's aversion to romance, this doesn't stop him from inserting one in Sweet's narrative. I really wish that he hadn't. Sweet's antics get him on the bad side of Jim Book, who becomes determined to put down Sweet for good. Unfortunately for Book, he accidentally consumes some of Sweet's blood thus making him a vampire. Book does everything to rid himself of this curse and by his side through this struggle is his Godchild child Abi. Abi of course develops feelings for Book and Book resists because he recognizes that as her Godfather this relationship is inappropriate. When Book however gets to the end of his ability to cope, he asks Abi to kill him which she agrees to do, if he agrees to have sex. Abi knows that she's fertile and hopes that a child will be the result because she doesn't want to be alone. Could it be anymore cliche? Abi isn't developed as a character despite her love for Book and her desire to have his child.
Pearl is quite the opposite of Sweet. She's both warm and loyal and only becomes violent in the name of justice. Pearl lives with her roommate Hattie, and they are best friends. When Hattie is kidnapped, Hattie will risk her life to save her friend though unbeknownst to Pearl, Hattie has already sold her soul out of jealousy. I really could have done without this. Would it really have been so hard to have two women support each other and maintain their relationship? Why did there have to be this under current of jealousy and why did Hattie feel that Pearl was better than her? It made me want to scream, particularly because this was the only female friendship in this volume. Instead of having Pearl and Hattie stick together, Snyder has Henry, the man who had been chasing Pearl be the one to remain true.
There are characters of colour in this volume but I wouldn't say that they are fully realised and tend to fall into the role of either sidekick or love interest. Their status is further reified by Sweet's continual use of racial slurs to reference them. Yes, I understand that Sweet's from the 1800's, and such casual racism would have been commonplace but that didn't make it any less jarring to read. I also could have done without the anti gay slur, particularly when King could have made his point without employing such language.
The artwork itself isn't particularly memorable and feels kind of slapdash to me. It really fails to evoke any kind of real emotion and make the characters feel real to me in any substantial way. When this is combined with a dialogue that is oftentimes predictable and without any real imagination it makes American Vampire at times tedious to read.