In Wilson's dystopian world, the United States is no more and its place the American Empire rules the people. It is a theocracy ruled over by an emperor. The people are forced to live under strict morality laws and those who refuse to conform are sent to Necropolis the former Las Vegas and now home to a population of vampires. Hank Evan is sent to Necropolis as punishment for procuring a prostitute and he is determined to survive somehow because he is all that his son Toby has yet. What Hank does not realise is that surviving this night will cost him so much more than he ever imagined.
As an introduction to a trilogy, Shining in Crimson was not bad. Wilson gave us a sense of the dystopian world and its divisions. I would have liked to know more about how the American Empire came to be and more specifically how the truce with the vampires came into existence. We start the novel learning that the war has now been over for 20 years and that the government uses religious propaganda to prop up its rules, along with a fear that the alternative is to become prey to the sinning vampires.
The POV constantly changes throughout the book and though I normally find this irritating, it helped to bring the different elements of the story together. I found it interesting to see vampires who based on their long lives understand better than the humans, exactly what the American Empire is all about. For safety, the humans have traded their liberty. Hank has vague memories of a time when the world was different and a father who fought and died for the United States. He is tormented by the horrible bargain he is forced to make. Then we have Simon a devout member of the Empire, to the point that he even thinks of his own mother as a whore, finally coming to grips with the fact that he has been sold a book of lies and finally, Ishan who is determined to hold his vampire council together and bring down the empire.
The majority of the characters in this book are male. The only three female characters of note are Simon's mother, who viscously slut shamed. When she is raped by Peter, Simon is horrified and yet when Peter says that you cannot rape the willing, Simon is quick to agree. It is because of her dress and the fact that she didn't physically fight back and instead begged for her son's safety that Simon refuses to see her as the victim that she is. It is only after gaining empathy from Ishan, that Peter begins to understand he may have potentially wronged his mother. The second female character is the human vampire Rachel. As with Simon's mother, she is also a rape victim. Each day she is subject to rape and beatings by her father and her brothers, which she endures until Peter kills them. In turn, after being judged worthy, Rachel becomes a vampire, only to rape Hank in a bid to help Peter become the leader of the vampires. There is also Grace, the dead wife of Hank. Years later he is still mourning her loss. Grace is really little more than a footnote in this story. Finally, we have the Queen of the Ancients, the only ancient vampire to be sentient. We don't really learn much about her beyond this.
As you can see, we have one female character who is promoted to obscurity and two others who largely exist as victims of sexual violence and Grace whose death provides angst for the male characters. These characters are never really developed beyond their victimhood. Turning Rachel from victim to predator given that Simon's first reaction to Rachel is to shame her for his sexual attraction to her does not develop her whatsoever and instead is more to position Simon's frame of reference. Shining in Crimson doesn't so much have female characters, as it does cardboard cut outs who are either fridged for male angst or victims for male judgment.