A large part of what makes Ex Sanguine unique is the tenuous, torrid relationship between Saul and the killer, dubbed the Sanguine Killer. Their relationship is the heart of this story, if a story of this kind can have a heart. Saul and the Sanguine Killer have much in common, most obviously (yet to the outside world the most secretive) is the fact that they are both hiding monsters inside of themselves, behind the facade of their everyday existence. Seeley’s art is fantastic and paired with Carlos Badilla’s colors, in a way ominous, as if something unexpected or terrible could happen at any moment, and it often does. The violence is gory and the romance is sexy, while also being off-putting. Emmons and Seeley’s Sanguine Killer is sexy and amorous, making the attraction between the killer and Saul more visceral, while also forcing us to question what we think is attractive and why we find violence or danger so seductive.
The motivations of many of the characters, especially FBI Agent Quinn and diner waitress Ashley, are complex and driven by disturbing pasts and experiences, revealed throughout the book in flashbacks that answer questions, while also raising new ones. The unsettling way the image of vampirism runs through these flashbacks is smart, because it creates a mythos in each character’s mind, and the way they process those memories and what they do with them is incredibly different. Seeley’s art adds to the mythos, creating sinister shadows that may be masking or distorting the truth in the characters’ minds. Ashley’s backstory is the most mysterious, and her flashbacks often left me wondering if the connections I was making in my head were correct, or simply my mind trying to connect the dots, to find a linear through-line, to explain and understand the information I had experienced, much in the same way Agent Quinn relates to Saul and her past.
The only aspect that confounded me was the Sanguine Killer’s code. It is never resolved or explained, and it is the one thing that I feel should have been dealt with more, especially after an altercation Saul has with another denizen of the night leads us to believe there is a larger significance to the code beyond just the killings. Perhaps this was a plot thread Seeley and Emmons wanted to leave open, in case they decide to continue Ex Sanguine in the future. The last page of the story hints at that possibility, as well, but only time will tell.
What is so great about Ex Sanguine is that while it is a straight horror tale, there are complex psychological undertones running through the whole thing, and you may find yourself hoping that the vampire and serial killer succeed, or maybe you will want them to learn the error of their ways, or be defeated. Those differing emotions, at times felt by the characters themselves, are what make this story so compelling. Everything is not wrapped up in a nice, little package by the end, and so the story and its characters linger in your mind long afterwards. Ex Sanguine makes you contemplate the way the past can haunt and shape people, no matter how long they live, and that no matter what choices we make, selfish or unselfish, there will always be consequences.