by Justin Cronin
“It’s all over, isn’t it, Amy?” He looked down at the girl’s sleeping form and gently touched her hand. “Over at last.”
Wolgast could stand it no more. “What’s over?”
Lear lifted his face; his eyes were full of tears.
Vampires. If any of us are duped into reading another book where the smart, rebellious young girl falls hopelessly in love with the tough but misunderstood vampire, someone should be staked. This isn’t that kind of novel.
At well over 300,000 words, major thematic sections make this first book in the trilogy feel much like three separate novels itself.
The first section is a modern experiment where a particularly interesting virus is discovered deep in a jungle. The project is quickly militarized and human subjects, mostly career criminals on death row, are given a chance to live past their upcoming death sentences if they’ll voluntarily participate. The experiment is huge, expensive and disastrous.
The second section, 100 years after the events in section one, is much like the Wool novels but significantly slower. A post-apocalyptic group of survivors eke out existence in a small, enclosed community while the rest of the world is presumed destroyed. But lives in this self-contained community are soon to change as a key component to the power source they’ve been depending on for the last century is about to fail. And it’s nearly impossible for them to set foot outside the walls of the community because of the monsters, called virals, roving the country at night.
The third section mainly uses a handful of the characters from the second section and chronicles a journey from an entrenched habitat in California back to where the story began in Colorado. Action is bumped back up again and this feels much more akin to the first part of the book and also has the kind of pioneering spirit you find in westerns.
There are three major working emotions tied to the novel, each to a main section. The first is excitement, building to a fever as the stage is set. The agents running around picking up the prisoners are especially likeable and easy to relate to and get you involved in the story quickly. But even the facility caretakers, and the prisoners themselves, take root nicely.
The second is really a kind of bored frustration as the story sags under the weight of introducing a slew of new characters in a desolate, somewhat hopeless existence. The day-to-day seems petty compared to the overall scope we’re expecting from a book like this but the stark contrast with the rapid-fire first section may also have played a role in perceiving things slowing down.
In the third movement, the journey with a strong sense of adventure where our characters are put to the test, we may finally fall a little in love with the story and develop a deeper, affectionate appreciation. It’s not a point A to B journey, either, but has constant obstacles cropping up that keep the characters second-guessing. Devour the first section, plod through the second and savor the third.
It’s a complex, largely adventurous book and has a number of intense scenes of horror. Mr. Cronin draws vivid, scary pictures that will burn into your brain when the virals are present. And these are the true monsters vampires were before they were neutered over the last few decades. Here are the kind of monsters if you see, you’re already dead.
“Lacey felt no fear, only wonder at the magnificent workings of God. That He should make a being so perfect in his design, fit to devour a world.”