Black Ambrosia by Elizabeth Engstrom

Angelina Watson yearns for freedom, so with the passing of her mother, decides to leave home for good. The road proves to be a dangerous place, yet she’s not alone, a voice only she can hear driving her to kill. But it’s not hatred or rage she feels when she drinks the blood of her victims, it’s love.

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Vampires are a classic, and one of the things that’s so great is how writers experiment with different takes on them, Black Ambrosia doing just that in 1988, with this reprint by Valancourt offering it a new lease of life. Leaving home to venture out into the big wide world, Angelina learns a lot about herself on the road as she meets people of all sorts – the rich, poor, and those in-between. Engstrom details how these individuals affect Angelina with good and bad experiences, and yes, it went to some dark places, yet the horror here was romanticized and dreamlike, Angelina’s psychological state always in question, as was the supernatural elements that were eluded to. I couldn’t help but like Angelina even as she became a killer – granted, her ability to get away with it was questionable at times – and because it was first-person, it went in-depth on her psyche, and that in itself was fascinating to read. She wasn’t a reliable narrator by any means, nor was she easy to understand, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

There were one or two aspects I wasn’t too interested in, such as a particular character that was frequently referenced to, over and over, Angelina’s pining for them getting old quite fast. Toward the end it very heavily focused on this relationship-not-relationship, instead of continuing on with Angelina’s encounters with strangers. See, I feel its biggest strength was how it depicted people, and not necessarily the obscure vampire antics, which were left vague and up for interpretation for the most part.

Lastly, I have to mention the mistake I made of reading the edition’s introduction. I usually skip them, but this time I didn’t, and was spoiled before I knew anything of the plot. It’s probably best, for new readers especially, to avoid it before reading the book.

In conclusion: Black Ambrosia had the typical vampiric tropes of sleeping in coffins and drinking blood, but it also explored the ugly truths of being human. As a protagonist, Angelina was introspective and often difficult to swallow, her headspace chaotic as she travelled from place to place while eager to please a seductive presence that urged her to kill. It dragged in places, and spent time zeroing in on a character I didn’t care for, but Engstrom’s writing was striking and kept me invested in Angelina’s journey.

Notable Quote:

Innocence was her crime and my salvation. Could I better live with the innocence of my victims than with the warped and shattered dreams of the adults they would eventually become?
Yes.

© Red Lace 2022

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