I read this because I enjoyed Feed immensely, but I was very disappointed. This is one of the most depressing books I've read in a long time. On the pI read this because I enjoyed Feed immensely, but I was very disappointed. This is one of the most depressing books I've read in a long time. On the plus side, the dog doesn't die. That and the charming bizarreness of the novel's world ("Would you like some of Jennifer? Or some of Dave?"; the dilemma posed for parents by Boston's lottery for virgins) saved it from getting only a single star.
Like Feed, the book opens with a light-hearted tone but descends into darkness. The main character, Chris, lives in a mildly alternate America where vampires are a commonly accepted hazard, like alligators or rattlesnakes, and are captured and lynched whenever possible. The citizens of Christopher's town perform a ritual every year to keep the vampire king Tch'muchgar imprisoned underneath their reservoir. Amusingly, the ritual is more like a carnival that just happens to include some Latin and sacrificing a goat, and part of it is done at a local restaurant because the restaurant was built on top of one of the ritual sites. Chris discovers that for some unknown reason he is becoming a vampire himself and is understandably a bit worried. He's approached by Chet (seriously? Chet?) who claims to be a servant of the Forces of Light and promises to cure Christopher's vampirism if Chris will deliver a device to Tch'muchgar's prison that will destroy him. Chris does as he is told, but it turns out Chet was lying and either can't or won't cure him (in D&D terms, Chet would be Neutral Evil), so the book ends with Chris in his bedroom agonizingly thirsty and thinking about whether or not to kill his family.
Anderson's writing style, which I liked in the near-future dystopia of Feed because it felt like it fit the setting and the characters, feels a bit stilted and awkward here. There are some hilarious bits, such as this: "I have read about a billion spy novels, and when you are following someone, you hide behind newspapers, or pretend to paint the house next door, or hide a camera inside a spacious poodle." Who thinks to describe a poodle as spacious?? Other bits are almost poetic, such as this description of the man who has been following Chris: "He follows me to school. He waits on the circle at the base of the American flag, and every class I'm in he turns like the shadow on a sundial to face the windows." But overall, the absence of contractions and oddly detached manner of speaking didn't work for me in this story.
My biggest issue with this book, though, is that nothing really happens. There is no real conflict, no real tension, and worst of all no resolution. Yeah, the vampire king is killed, but since he never rises to the level of an open/active threat (and it turns out he wanted to die anyway) it’s wholly irrelevant. Christopher’s role in Tch'muchgar's death, where one might have expected some challenges and the need for him to show some gumption, is quickly and easily accomplished with zero difficulty. The nascent romance between Chris and Rebecca never goes anywhere, nor do the red herrings about Rebecca studying the Kabbalah which I thought might offer a way for Chris and Rebecca to join forces and take some initiative. Unlike the main character in Feed, Chris never really grapples with his central dilemma; he doesn't like it, he's worried and isolated, but he just mopes around waiting. In the end he has been disappointed but has not grown or changed and has taken no action since all his time was used up waiting for Chet to keep his promise. There is no love in this book (his own mother will turn him in if she thinks he's become a vampire), no affection, no passion, no loyalty (he and his friends are often mean to each other), no striving, nothing to counteract the mundane dismalness of the situation. Chris is passive and helpless in the face of what's happening to him. Worst of all, he is not only lied to and manipulated by Chet, Chet actually makes fun of him at the end! How disgustingly small and mean-spirited is that??
The single exception, and to me by far the best scene, is when Chris encounters his friend's dog, Bongo, and struggles with his desire to kill it and suck its blood. He is saved from this brutal act by his ability to empathize, his wish not to cause his friend pain. For this one brief moment Chris became a real person for me, his dilemma vivid and agonizing; my heart broke for him a little even as I applauded his strength and self-control. If rest of the book, or even just Chris, had sustained that same intensity and depth of character I might have liked it better.
A minor nit, but the use of the word "lynching" for the staking of vampires irritated me. Lynching is a weighty word that needs to be applied judiciously and it simply doesn't work here.
A number of other reviewers saw the vampirism as a metaphor for being gay, which totally escaped me. If it is, then it certainly is a very discouraging one and seems more appropriate for the mid-1970s than today....more
You have known all along that something in this story wasn't right...Perhaps, even now, you will feign ignorance, attempt to deny your complicity in tYou have known all along that something in this story wasn't right...Perhaps, even now, you will feign ignorance, attempt to deny your complicity in the construction of this lie...
Indeed. Well played, Buehlman. Well played. ::cries a little::
When I was a kid, maybe ten or eleven, I saw one of the old black-and-white Dracula movies, probably a Hammer Films production. I have no idea which one it was, but the last scene was of Dracula, alone in this Victorian library or parlor, his head slumped over the shaft of the spear through his chest that's pinned him to the wall, the early morning sun streaming in through these huge double-height windows. That scene haunts me to this day, its sense of desolation and melancholy and sadness and, yes, horror (though perhaps not the kind the filmmakers intended).
Something similar washed over me when I closed The Lesser Dead this morning. This is so much more than a vampire book that it's hard to know how to talk about it.
Here is one thing I can say: Normally I'm one of those rabid page-turners (what's next what's next WHAT'S NEXT WHAT'S NEXT!!) but I found myself consciously drawing out the reading of this book because although I very much wanted to know what happened next, I could sense that something bad was coming. Something I didn't want to see, or know. I was right -- but not at all in the way I expected. Whatever happened next was going to happen by the platform in Union Station, out in the open, under the lights. With an audience...
Which leads me to another thing I can say: This is an excellent piece of storytelling. It's difficult to end a story in a way that is both utterly unexpected and yet still fits all the events that have preceded it, but that's what happens here. Even more challenging is to pull off an ending that makes the reader go back and re-assess everything they just read. That also happens here. Finally, there's a certain level of "meta" as well, since the ideas of narrator, of story, of reader expectations -- not to mention the relationship between narrator and reader -- are played with and questioned in interesting ways.
So...yeah, go read this. Then think about it. Then maybe read it again, knowing what's coming.
(P.S. Very minor spoiler stats for the animal lovers in the audience: (view spoiler)[dogs that die=0, cats that die=1, bird that doesn't die and is well taken care of=1, derogatory mention of insects=many (hide spoiler)].)["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Skip it. If you've read Fred Saberhagen's The Dracula Tape, you've read a far far better version of this already. The author tries to turn Mina into aSkip it. If you've read Fred Saberhagen's The Dracula Tape, you've read a far far better version of this already. The author tries to turn Mina into a modern woman but doesn't succeed very well -- instead of thinking for herself she's like a weathervane, swinging around to believe whoever is telling her tales at the moment, so it comes across as more of a slightly discordant medley than a coherent tune. In fact, Bram Stoker's Mina is in some ways a more consistent and stronger character than this one. Then there's the completely irrelevant sub-plot about Mina finding her father and mother, which serves no purpose. It doesn't even make Mina a more interesting character since it's a very cliche Victorian solution. The book was a bit of a snooze in places because James had to recount in all the events of the original book in order to tell Mina's version of them; apparently she didn't want to assume that anyone had actually read the original, which to my mind is a major flaw (what's wrong with demanding your readers come to a book with a little context??). Finally, I thought the ending, while not bad in and of itself, was entirely wrong for the story thus far. It would have been a fine ending for a different version of the story, but for me it didn't fit this one well at all....more
Someone else described this as "a hodgepodge of Bram Stoker, Tom Clancy, Stephen King, and John Steinbeck(WARNING: Minor spoilers at end. About dogs.)
Someone else described this as "a hodgepodge of Bram Stoker, Tom Clancy, Stephen King, and John Steinbeck: one if by vampires, two if by military games, three if by bloodbath, and four if by brotherly melodrama." That about nails it, though the percentages are by no means equal. I give this a four on the strength and beauty of the wordsmithing; the plot and pacing leave something to be desired and would probably get a three. The words drew me in and I tore through it, desperately wanting to know what would happen and engrossed by each scene as it took place, but retrospectively I think there were chunks that could have been edited down quite a bit.
It's epic in the classic sense of the word -- the sweep of the story is huge both in number of character and timespan -- and I like an epic as well as the next person. But in some cases the shifts were jarring: you get invested in one set of characters and then SWITCH they're all (or mostly) gone (or dead) and here we are with a whole new set, and then SWITCH they're all (or mostly) gone (or dead) etc.
What drew me in is that, like Stephen King, Cronin can paint a scene and draw a character like nobody's business. Every sense gets involved -- I can see hear smell touch taste -- and that goes a long way towards good storytelling. He's especially good with the natural/visceral components: forest, mountain, snowfall, light and shadow, love and fear, the rapid-fire of action scenes.
The huge cast of characters is a bit of a problem, though. In the first part, where the apocalypse comes slouching towards the world, every character felt clearly defined and drawn; I liked, or at least understood, all of them: the nun, the desperate mother, the orphan, the government agent, the mercenary. In the second part Cronin tries to accomplish the same thing but there just isn't the time or page-space for it. He bridges the two parts -- 90+ years -- with the diary of Sara Fisher, who as a very young child survived the plague and was put on a train to California and is now a very old woman in the Colony. But the Colony has something like a hundred people (echoes of The Forest of Hands and Teeth) and it's tough to keep them apart in your head. It doesn't help that many of them are being manipulated by Babcock (the King Vampire, in van Helsing lingo) so they sort of blend together as "nasties." Cronin does his best by giving them distinctive (and vaguely ethnic) characteristics or family heritages, but it doesn't quite work. He just has too much to do.
Once the narrative sheds the extraneous characters and gets back to a small group it goes along better. All four of the conflicts ("one if by vampires, two if by military games, three if by bloodbath, and four if by brotherly melodrama") are somewhat resolved and I was feeling pretty good about things as I neared the end...
...and then it turned out to be book 1 of a trilogy. AAARGH! I felt quite let down by this. Partly of course I simply wanted a resolution, but more importantly Amy was such an intense and unusual character -- I wept when she Named them all, shades of A Wind in the Door -- that I can't help but feel her impact will be sadly diluted by being spread out over multiple books. And of course the whole Quest, the battle to kill Babcock, turns out to be only 1/12th of the fight, which is discouraging and disillusioning. It's like being coaxed to climb a really huge mountain and just when you get to the top the person who dragged you up there says, "You did great! And your reward is, you get to do it all over again! Maybe eleven times!"
And goddamnit, the dog dies AGAIN. What is it with you people? (And by "you people" I mean "authors".) WHY MUST THE DOG ALWAYS DIE??? Yes, he was a very minor character with a small percentage of page time and no dialog, but HE WAS A FURRY AFFECTIONATE PROTECTIVE LOYAL DOG. And it's not like there were a lot of dogs left, there never are, so why does that always get repaid with death? You authors are just damn lucky your dogs can't read....more