Today is the 21st June, Midsummer’s Eve. In the world of the Cavaliers, it’s the most important event in the calendar – the night of the Summer Party.
I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with Midsummer (and indeed Midwinter). I think I’ve mentioned on here before that I love the changing seasons and I like celebrating all of the year’s events properly. In this case, there’s something that catches my imagination about it being the longest day of the year. Even though summer is only really just getting going, it feels like the climax of something. I think it helps that it’s my birthday two days before so I’m always in a bit of a celebratory mood. Sadly, it’s not a big event in modern Britain, but it is something that seems to have been celebrated in a variety of cultures for whom the changing seasons were important.
My first year at Oxford, my college held their Commemoration Ball on Midsummer’s Eve and made a big deal of the fact. It was the last night of the academic year and some the combination felt perfect. For me, there was no better time for my imaginary society to have the climax of their year of monitoring and selecting students.
And of course, the bittersweet thing about Midsummer (for most humans at least) is that while it may be the longest day of the year, that means it’s all downhill from here in terms of the nights starting to get longer. But for a vampire, of course, what better thing to celebrate than the fact that there’ll soon be less of those pesky hours of sun light and that they’ll be able to hunt and seduce their prey from early evening?
In my books, the Summer Party has taken place every 21st June for centuries. It’s something of a recurring theme in the novels, with Oxford Blood opening with one year’s party and closing with another’s. Screaming Spires climaxes with a third party, and readers also get to see a party from the eighties in one of Adelaide’s flashbacks.
For anyone unfamiliar with my novels, the Cavaliers are a society of aristocratic vampires at Oxford University. There are two important points to the Summer Party – firstly, to have a wild and wonderful party and secondly, to turn the year’s five most promising students into vampires.
The structure of the party has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years. All of the current Society attend, along with the ten candidates for membership. Each of them are allowed to bring a guest, albeit with a bit of room for vetting and vetoing by the Senior Members.
Human attendees are picked up by an unordered taxi driven by a thoroughly mesmerised driver and taken to an unknown location in a clearing in the Oxfordshire Forests. The clearing is magical, lit by torches and fairylights. Music drifts out from unseen torches, leaving most people unable to resist frenzied dancing. The champagne flows freely, along with all kinds harder substances for those so inclined. All of the guests are beautiful, and all of them have made a special effort for this most prestigious of occasions. After a few drinks, some couples can’t resist the privacy of the woods. There are however two things that might make an observant guest nervous. Firstly, where are the actual members? Shouldn’t they be enjoying their own party? Secondly, why is there a huge scaffold in one area of the clearing?
The moment that the sun goes down, these questions are answered. The torches extinguish themselves, and when they are relit, the Cavaliers are standing on the scaffold, almost as if they’ve appeared out of thin air. Of course, they want a few glasses of champagne and a taste of the other delights of the party for themselves, but before long, it’s time for business.
Suddenly, a man appears, as he has every party since the event began. He seems to be about forty, which ought to make him stand out like a sore thumb at this gathering of bright young things, but he is sufficiently attractive that he blends in perfectly. This is Augustine, the leader of the Cavaliers, and probably the oldest vampire currently in existence.
There is a speech from one of that year’s senior members. Its words are timeless, almost with the status of a sacrament, but inevitably, each speaker will put his own spin on it, imbuing it with more gravity or humour or terror, depending on their personal tastes.
And then the ten potential candidates are summoned onto the scaffolding. The names of the five who have been selected for the ultimate honour of Cavaliers membership are called, and they are each invited to call their chosen guests to them.
At this point in proceedings, most of the guests find themselves feeling a little confused, but at the same time utterly placid and happy to go along with whatever is going to happen. Anyone trying to rationalise it would suspect they’d over-indulged, but most aren’t thinking that consciously.
And then suddenly, at a signal from Augustine, one of the existing members bites down on each of the potential members. They drink their blood and force-feed them their own, repeating the cycle a few times until the inductees finally collapse, seemingly dead. Those who were not selected for membership are staked to the ground, those who were are gently revived.
The new members are confused and disorientated, but the old members get them a celebratory drink, then line them up opposite their guests, promptly bite into their necks then offer them to the new recruits to drain of all blood.
This sacrifice is necessary to complete the transformation. Most new inductees don’t understand what’s going on, but some instinct compels them to drink the blood anyway, going against all their feelings of repulsion. Those who resist are forced by the existing members, and most thank them for it once it’s all over.
Once the girls are dead and the new members have become fully-fledged vampires, it’s back on with the party. The cover-ups and the plans to get the new Cavaliers into positions of power will be arranged tomorrow, but now it’s time for fun.
Most of the instances of the Summer Party in the books are far too spoilerific to be presented to new readers, but to celebrate the lengthening of the nights, here’s the opening of Book One (Stephanie’s Summer Party) and a flashback from later in Oxford Blood (Adelaide’s rather more successful Summer Party)