Secret Vampire, the first Night World book, follows Poppy North, a teenage girl dying from cancer. Her best friend and neighbour, James Rasmussen reveals himself to be a vampire and changes her to save her life. Once he has made Poppy into an illegal vampire, James hides her in his apartment, only leaving her when he realises that his cousin is supposed to visit him. Trying to head off his cousin and keep him away from the apartment, James leaves Poppy alone for the first time since he came to live with her. His cousin, Ash Redfern, turns up while James is still away.
Ash's character is quickly established in this book as "crazy... cold-blooded, ruthless" and generally untrustworthy. According to James, Ash is "the real thing. The ultimate vampire." James also tells Poppy that Ash doesn't care about anyone but himself and loves making trouble.
In just a few paragraphs L.J. Smith sets up the bad-boy Ash that we meet again in Daughters of Darkness. All of his basic characteristics are established firmly in our minds - his selfishness, his dangerous activites and his ruthless personality.
When Poppy first meets him, we are given the following description
He was very good looking, built like James, but
a little taller, and maybe a year older. His hair
was longish. His face had a nice shape, clean-cut
features, and wicked slightly tilted eyes." (page 182)
Further details about Ash's appearance include his "nice laugh", his "long legs", his ever-changing eyes and his "wild, handsome smile". Again, all of these details are retained for Ash's further appearances in the Night World series.
Throughout his conversations with Poppy, Ash's humour is evident. He jokes about his supposed 'badness' and teases his cousin, Thea Harman, gently. He is also referred to as being 'gallant', a word that is associated with the end chapters of Daughters of Darkness.
On the surface, Ash Redfern is nothing like his cousin makes him out to be. He has a sense of humour, he likes James and only wants to protect him, he gets along with his cousins Thea and Blaise Harman, his words are always gentle and calm, and he seems sympathetic at all times.
However, it swiftly becomes apparant that Ash is not really such a 'good' character. As soon as he discovers Poppy he tells her that she is putting James in grave danger and that she must leave if she wants to protect him. He uses her own feelings of loyalty and honour to wound both her and her soulmate in the worst way possible. It becomes obvious to the reader that Ash is "playing" with Poppy. Poppy herself recognises this, but Ash manages to divert her attention from that thought. He is described as talking and moving quickly, with a certain degree of passion, while Poppy's thoughts and movements are more languid. Ash never lets Poppy stop to really think about what he is saying or what she is about to do. We are told that "Talking to Ash made [Poppy's] head whirl, made her feel as if she were too young and stupid to be sureof anything."
This entire interchange is interesting because it shows Ash's powers of persuasion. James calls him a 'Don Juan' who enjoys playing with girls before he gets tired of them. This is important in Daughtersof Darkness where Ash's charms completely fail him when facing both his sisters and Mary-Lynnette Carter. There is, however, a suggestion that Ash's powers may not be as strong as both he and his cousin believe. Although he convinces Poppy that she must leave James, Poppy refuses to "take his advice" and leaves her soulmate a note to say goodbye. However, it must be said that in this note Poppy states that Ash has made her "understand the truth".
Interestingly, LJS makes a reference to Ash's eyes being "hypnotic". She later tells us that his voice was "sweetly hypnotic". This serves to enhance our idea of Ash's powers of persuasion, but did he actually have the power of hypnosis? It would seem outlanish if not for the fact that James, his cousin, displayed mind-control earlier in the book. So it is possible that vampires have a varying degree of mind-control/hypnosis. That said, Poppy, because of her witch background, proves resistant to James' mind-control and so would probably be resistant to any similar attempts made by Ash.
Ash's womanising streak reveals itself clearly once he and Poppy reach Las Vegas. After telling her that he respects her and just wants what's best for both her and James, Ash wastes no time in hitting on Poppy. Instead of speaking to her in a comforting manner, Ash is suddenly talking to Poppy "caressingly". Poppy begins to worry:
bother her. He was acting more as if they were
out on a date than as if her were escorting her
into exile." (p201)
It is only really when Poppy rejects his advances, that Ash's devious side becomes more pronounced. Earlier, Blaise tried to convince Ash to bring Poppy to the Solstice party. There are hints that she knows that Poppy is an illegal vampire and is trying to persuade Ash to turn her in to Thierry, the vampire Elder throwing the party. Although Ash looks "tempted" he refuses to go. Once Poppy makes it clear that she is not interested in him in a romantic or sexual way, Ash changes his mind and insists they go to the party after all. Again Ash is extraordinarily persuasive and Poppy agrees to go with him.
As soon as Ash has convinced Poppy to go to the party, his character changes. His bright "hypnotic" eyes suddenly become "the black eyes of a snake" and his "lovely" laughter takes on a threatening edge. It becomes clear to Poppy that Ash believes in taking care of yourself and no one else. When James and Phillip show up, he reverts to being "innocent and guileless".
Interestingly, Ash is defeated by Poppy twice - once when she leaves James a note and again when she rejects his advances - and both times it is because of the soulmate principle, something which Ash refers to as "garbage". It almost seems that L.J. Smith is gradually introducing Ash to the power of the soulmate principle, in preparation for his journey to Briar Creek.
Although Ash claims that he never meant to expose Poppy, most readers are left with an overwhelmingly negative image of Ash by the end of Secret Vampire and it seems that his future redemptionin Daughters of Darkness has no basis. I don't believe this for a second! There are plenty of suggestions of another side to Ash in Daughters of Darkness, and I will deal with these under that heading. Secret Vampire also contains hints of a less straightforwardly evil Ash Redfern.
When Thea discovers that Ash has taken Poppy, she is surprised. She admits that she should have known Ash was up to something, but there is an implication that she never expected that her cousin would do something so terrible. Although Ash obviously plays with Poppy, he does seem to care for her. He never places her in immediate danger. Let's face it, if he had wanted to reveal her to Thierry, it would have been easy. Poppy and Ash were in the anteroom of Thierry's house and it had been shown earlier in the book that Ash had formidable telepathic powers, so it would have been easy for him to call attention to himself and Poppy. But he does not. When Poppy fights him, he doesn't even put up much of a physical struggle. All in all, once Ash had finished "playing" with Poppy he had plenty of opportunity to turn her in, but he does not. Poppy herself is not entirely sure that Ash was actually going to reveal her to the Council:
were. She looked at Ash's wide eyes, his wide
violet eyes - and felt doubt slosh back and forth
inside her." (p218)
Again, it is worth noting that Poppy feels doubt when she looks into Ash's eyes. Another reference to his "hypnotic" persuasion.
And let us remember that it is Ash who figures out that Poppy might be a witch and instructs her to check her family tree.
To me, there are hints of another Ash in Secret Vampire, just as there are in Daughters of Darkness, even before he falls in love with Mary-Lynnette. Ash Redfern seems to be a vampire living up to certain expectations. Could it be that people expect Ash to be a certain way and he does his best to fit in with that image? There are occassional slips in his actions which suggest that not is all as it seems with the premier member of the Redfern clan. Or is it true, as James claimed, that "Nobody can push buttons and pull strings like [Ash] can"?