The Blurb on Other People’s Words – Virals and Sparklers: Vampires?

January 31, 2012 at 12:34 am (writing)

My review of two books where the creatures in the story are referred to as Dracs or vampires – but are they?

The Passage – by Justin Cronin

In the beginning of this story, we are presented with a cast of characters who all end up tied into a military experiment with a virus that has healing and strength properties, if you survive it, but also leaves its target with vampiric-like traits: a thirst for blood, a sensitivity to daylight, mind-control, something akin to flight and a “sweet spot” in the chest where the individually can be staked. The characters are a diverse lot. We have Amy, a child who has a strange effect on animals, abandoned by a destitute mother, Sister Lacey, a nun who suffers from both terrible memories and premonitions, Wolgast, an older divorced FBI agent who laments a lost child and Doyle, his younger partner, and Anthony Carter, an inmate on Death Row who happened to be a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The story follows them and secondary characters, the other 11 participants in the experiment, for example up to a climactic event as a result of the experiment, The story then jumps ahead a hundred years and we are introduced to an entire new setting and a new world order, and we are provided a second new cast of characters, Peter, Alicia, Sara, Michael, Caleb, Theo, Mausami and others, all struggling to survive a harsh life facing a constant threat from the “virals”. Things begin to change with the alluring call from the one who calls himself “Babcock” and the arrival of Amy, throwing the life they know into greater chaos.

I’m not going to expand on the story beyond that, to avoid spoilers. It is a very long book, and the fact that I finished tells you I found it worth my time. However…

This is the first book I felt obliged to discuss with others before reviewing it, partially because the first part of the book was *so*spectacular and while the second part of the book was good enough to read, it had its questionable moments. That and the reviews from the pro venues and Stephen King raved about the book as a whole, but I disagreed, and so did those I talked to.

The difference between first and second section was enough that it almost seemed like the two sections had been written by two different people. The current scenes at the beginning were vivid, the storyline gripping, and the characters developed in great detail. I was well invested in all of them by the time that part ended. The time gap came as a bit of a disappointment, especially when the return to the story meant having to face a brand new selection of people. They were not so well developed, the focus more on the changes in society and the environment and the threat from the virals, to the point of being repetitive about it in places. Some of the characters did stand out. I particularly liked Alicia and Sara, and while the male characters were likable, they were ultimately interchangeable. I couldn’t picture any of them properly in my mind’s eye and if we hadn’t been told who was acting amongst the men, I never would have been able to guess who was doing what.

I didn’t like the set-up with the Teacher and the Sanctuary, sheltering children from the truth until they were eight, either. That seemed cruel and pointless to me, as well as unrealistic. The conditions they lived in would have demanded “survival of the fittest” tactics, and I would have expected children to be aware of what to expect from the beginning, to better prepare them, rather than raising their hopes and then crushing their spirits in one fell swoop. I also didn’t enjoy the incessant love triangles. Boy A loves girl A but girl B loves boy A and then girl B gives up on boy A because he doesn’t love her back, so she turns to boy B but then girl A makes it clear that she can’t love boy A and so he turns back to girl B but she has moved on, etc., etc.

There is also one scene at the end where one character does something horribly selfish when she had never done anything selfish in the past, so it was totally out of character for her. But giving exact details would be a spoiler, so I will refrain.

Lastly, some of the characters that were the focus of the opening section were almost non-existent in the second section. I felt that as a big loss, especially after having become so invested in them.

Even with these things that didn’t agree with me, I still enjoyed the story and Mr. Cronin has fantastic action scenes. I would have read this book for the sake of those scenes alone – so I’m giving this four stars based on that and the five star opening. I plan on reading the sequel because I do want to see where the story goes and hopefully find out what happened to those errant intro characters. I also hope that the sequel, The Twelve, has more writing like what I enjoyed in the first section and less of the sometimes meandering and unfocussed plot that appeared in the second.

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella – by Stephenie Meyer

Alright – I have a confession to make. I have read *all* of Stephenie Meyer’s books…a guilty pleasure of mine. I loved The Host. I liked the first three books in the Twilight series, particularly the second one, because it’s like literary junk food. You know it isn’t good for you, but it’s just so tasty. On the other hand, I despised the fourth book. I thought it was cheesy, over-done and a lame extension of the storyline where she “jumped the shark”. She stooped to desperate measures used by bad sit-coms to squeeze everything she could out of the series – introducing the rapid aging, cutesy, overly precocious child *shudder* and a battle that doesn’t really happen and where nobody important gets hurt – so disappointing.

Secondly, she may call those creatures vampires, but just because they are immortal and suck blood does *not* make them vampires. There are other blood-sucking immortal creatures of legend and lore that were not vampires. The traditional ways of hurting vampires don’t work on these things, they sparkle in sunlight instead of bursting into flame, they have individual “gifts”, they are as hard as stone (to the point where she describes them as tinking when they kiss). I think of them more as some sort of weird undead carbonite golems. Tying wings and gluing fangs to a mouse does not make it a vampire bat.

With that out of the way, I’ll address this novella. If you haven’t read the Twilight series, I’ll tell you I will have a spoiler here. If you have read the Twilight series, you know what happened to Bree, this just expands on it, so I won’t be giving anything away. The novella tells the story of Bree Tanner, one of the fledgeling “vampires” created from the street kids in Seattle by Victoria, her attempt at amassing an army of distraction so she can target Bella, the Cullens’ “human pet.” Bree was a runaway, fleeing an abusive father, and is in training under Riley’s scrutiny. We discover that Riley, Victoria’s second-in-command, has been lying to the group of more than twenty fledgelings, allowing them to believe they are just like real vampires, in order to better control them. We get a look at the environment amongst the fledgelings, including plenty of bullying, recklessness and posturing. Bree, and her friend, Diego, discover the truth about their real state of being by accident. The entire group is then taken to a strange cabin for further organization and training and from there they will be off to hunt Bella and battle the Cullens. Diego and Bree’s unwelcomed knowledge proves to be disastrous.

The is literary junk food, just like the rest of Twilight, only I found it a little less appetizing then the first three books in the series. It was a fast and easy read, but it seemed a little pointless. Bree was kind of naive and unperceptive for a street kid turned “vampire”. She rarely thinks for herself, first obliging Riley, then Diego, and is very much the “damsel in distress” even though I would have expected her to be a little more cunning and capable after surviving on her own on the streets. She hides behind Fred to avoid threats, a “vampire” that repulses others as his special gift, and when given the chance to escape with him, she instead chases futilely after Diego when in all likelihood he is already dead. She trusts Riley after she *knows* he has repeatedly lied to her. I found it difficult to sympathize or identify with her.

Part of the appeal to Twilight was the fairy-tale effect. Bella was also a “damsel in distress” but as is typical with a fairy-tale, she ended with her prince charming and they lived happily ever-after (literally – they were, after all, immortal.) That effect is lost here, because Bree doesn’t get her happily ever after. She makes a stupid decision and then she dies for it. End of story.

If you like Meyer’s work, and/or are looking for some quick and effortless brain candy, you may want to give this a read. It is fun in places and helped pass my time during my daily commute. I rate it three out of five stars.

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