Posts Tagged With: vampires

“The Passage” by Justin Cronin

I received an electronic copy of The Passage by Justin Cronin through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I had originally intended to read it for last year’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, but took a blogging hiatus around that time and never got around to reading it.  I picked it up last week and realized just how much I’d been missing out on.

This is not your ordinary vampire book.

A top-secret military operation called Project NOAH thinks that it has stumbled upon the secret of regeneration and life extension.  After following legends about vampires, they discover a virus that significantly alters the human body.  The military experiments on a group of twelve death-row inmates, finally perfecting a mutation the virus which they give to a little girl named Amy.  Unfortunately, their test subjects are more powerful than they thought, and they escape and wreak havoc on mankind.

The book is divided into two main sections.  The first describes the progression of Project NOAH up until the vampires are unleashed, and the second is a post-apocalyptic tale of a small colony of human survivors.  The book alternates between point-of-view characters in order to tell a story that’s much larger than any of their individual lifespans.  This style of narration reminded me a bit of Asimov’s Founation Trilogy, and it Cronin uses it spectacularly.  There’s a lot of description of the characters and their relationships with each other, but it doesn’t weigh the book down.  Instead, it makes you more invested in the fate of every single person, and it emphasizes the strength and weaknesses of a community trying to survive in the face of extreme danger.

My initial thought as I read about Project NOAH’s experiments is that there is no way in hell that an IRB (Independent Review Board) would ever sanction that type of experiment.  It violates pretty much every rule of the ethical treatment of human subjects currently in existence.  It was a disaster waiting to happen.

The characters in the second half of the book face a different ethical question.  They see family and friends being turned, and it’s like zombies, really.  You know you have to shoot them.  At the same time, they seem to retain at least a shadow of the people who they once were, so it’s hard to do it, even though you know you have to.  People are taught that the vampires have no souls, but their behavior is a bit more complex and isn’t very well understood.

Cronin’s biggest strength was the way that he showed how life goes on, even when there are vampires and you know you might not live another day.  In one part of the book, a band of brave colonists embark on a journey to bring Amy to Colorado.  They think that she is the only hope left for humanity, and that they could discover a way to end the vampires.  On the way, some members of the group fall in love.  One couple has a baby.  The fact that it’s the apocalypse doesn’t mean that people stop being people, or that human interactions change in any fundamental way.

The Passage is well worth the time spent reading it (and at more than 700 pages, it does take quite a bit of time to read).  It’s the kind of book that makes you ask “Where have you been all my life?!” as you read it.  I’d highly recommend it.

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Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

“Shadow of Night” by Deborah Harkness

“Shadow of Night” is the sequel to Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches and forms the second book of the All Souls Trilogy.  I had mixed feelings on the first book, but I’m pleased to report that this one was much better.

I received a signed copy of “Shadow of Night” while I was at Book Expo America earlier this summer.  It was one of the longest lines that I stood in during the entire conference.

The book begins when Diana and Matthew travel back in time to Elizabethan England in order to find a witch who can help Diana understand her rather unique magical abilities which seem to defy all known rules.  They also seek the Ashmole 782, a manuscript which promises to explain the origins of witches, vampires, and demons.  Of course, living in the 1500s is easier said than done, and Diana must face many challenges in order to adapt.  This encompasses everything from dressing and speaking to dealing with Matthew’s friends from the time, most of whom are famous intellectuals.

It’s the little things that make this book endearing, such as the author’s decision to portray Christopher Marlowe as a total asshole, or the fact that my favorite old manuscript of all time makes an appearance (the Voynich manuscript, which is to this day indecipherable.  I like xkcd’s assessment).  Even though I still  had a lot of problems with the book, it was a fun read.  I love the idea of a book about an old manuscript, and the literary/historical references made me smile.

During the first book, one of the biggest problems that I saw was the repetitive description of every detail of Diana’s life.  While “Shadow of Night” still has a high level of detail, it is relevant and helps to build the atmosphere of Elizabethan England.  What was unnecessary while reading about modern Oxford works well here, and it helps to create a complex picture of the past.  I’ve always enjoyed reading about Elizabethan England, and this book was no exception.  It was neat to see it from Diana’s perspective because she is a historian whose preconceived notions about the time period clashed with the reality.

I wish that Harkness would have given a bit more explanation/thought to the topic of time travel.  You can travel back in time and even change things to a small extent, but nothing major happens as a result.  It is possible to discover the presence of time travelers based on historical anomalies, such as when a locket that Diana possessed in the past turned up in the future, or when Matthew’s father left a note in a book so that his wife would find it after he was already dead in the present.  The time travel paradox aspect of the book could have been explored in a bit more depth, as Diana and Matthew did spend a great deal of time in the past and should probably have made more of an impact than they did.  Then again, we didn’t see much of the present in this book, so maybe they did and it just hasn’t been explained yet.

If you liked the first book, then by all means continue with the second.  I think that it’s the better of the two, and I’m looking forward to reading the third whenever it’s released.  Again, this isn’t high literature, but it’s an enjoyable read if you like the idea of a story that revolves around an old book and don’t mind some cheesy vampire romance.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance | Tags: , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

“A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness

I purchased the book “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness after meeting the author at BEA and receiving a signed copy of the next book in the All Souls Trilogy.

Normally I’m wary about vampire books, but I decided to take a chance on this series because I’ve heard so many good things about it.  It helps that the vampires are nerdy scholars with a penchant for old documents, so it makes their faults more forgivable.

Diana Bishop is a witch who’s doing research at Oxford’s Bodelian Library.  Her family is very powerful, but she doesn’t like to use magic because she feels like it nullifies her own professional accomplishments.  One day Diana comes across an enchanted alchemical manuscript that’s been missing for a very long time.  Her discovery draws the attention of a bunch of vampires, demons, and other witches, all of whom have a vested interest in the contents of the book.  One such individual is Matthew Clairmont, a vampire scientist who is fond of fine wine.  Even though relationships between vampires and witches are strictly forbidden, she finds herself falling in love with him.

The relationship dynamic between Diana and Matthew didn’t appeal to me right away.  Matthew is a bit controlling, but not in a good way.  It’s more of an Edward Cullen I-watch-you-in-your-sleep type deal, which is not sexy but definitely prosecutable as breaking and entering, especially when the individuals involved aren’t dating yet.

It gets better (and less creepy) as the book progresses and the two become an established couple.  The two of them weren’t completely hopeless, and there were aspects of their relationship that I did enjoy, such as the fact that Diana and Matthew are intellectually matched and can have intelligent conversations with each other.  My favorite part of the book was Diana’s reaction to being shown Matthew’s collection of books that he had accumulated over the centuries:

“Imagine what you’d have if you’d been buying books for centuries,” Matthew said with a shrug that reminded me of Ysabeau.  “Things pile up.  We’ve gotten rid of a lot over the years.  We had to.  Otherwise this room would be the size of the Bibliotheque Nationale.”

The scene reminded me of the part in “Beauty and the Beast” where the Beast shows Belle his library, and that gesture IS sexy (unlike, as I’ve noted, breaking into a girl’s apartment and watching her sleep).

It’s obvious that Matthew is a stereotypical hot vampire character who is supposed to represent the ideal male.  He doesn’t have any depth of personality, but rather seems to be more of a sexual/romantic fantasy insert.  I’m not terribly distraught about that because it is summer and I enjoy the occasional romance if both characters are endowed with functional brains.

The biggest problem that I had with this book is that it needed a better editor, particularly one who could help to chop it down to about half of its length.  The author has a tendency to ramble and to include every little detail of Diana’s daily routine.  I don’t need to know every time Diana changes clothes, especially considering the fact that all of her clothing is pretty much the same.  I don’t need to know when she eats, drinks, sleeps, does yoga, goes rowing, etc.  There is so much excessive detail about Diana’s life that I half expected to have to read about her changing her tampons and/or pooping.  It’s too much, and it doesn’t further the plot in any meaningful way.

I like the idea of a book that revolves around an old manuscript.  It makes my inner librarian happy.  When I started reading I was expecting something more like Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian.”  This wasn’t quite like that, but the setting appealed to me nonetheless, and the book did contain a lot of literary and historical references.

I have mixed feelings on this book.  There were a lot of things that didn’t work for me, but at the same time it was still entertaining enough to finish.  It took about 350 pages for the plot to pick up, but once it did I had a hard time putting the book down.  Despite its faults, it’s a decent summer read, and I’ve already started reading the sequel.  I’ve got high hopes for “Shadow of Night” because many of the problems that I had with “A Discovery of Witches” were confined to the first half of the book, and I’m expecting that the second book will jump right into the story.  I’m also looking forward to seeing Harkness’ level of detail in the second book because it’s set in Elizabethan England, which is one of my favorite time periods to read about.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Romance | Tags: , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

“Interview With the Vampire” by Anne Rice

Disclaimer:  Normally, I’m not into vampire novels.  Sometimes they’re okay (if you are Robin McKinley or Elizabeth Kostova).  Sparkly vampires bother me.  This book was really big when I was in high school, but I never got around to reading it because I was too busy reading Nietzsche and various social contract theories.  When a friend recommended that I see the movie, I decided to read the book first.  It also helped that I found a copy for 50 cents.

Now, to the review… the title of this book is rather self-explanatory; the novel is an interview between an unnamed reporter and a vampire named Louis.  Louis tells his story, from when another vampire named Lestat turned him into a vampire in pre-Civil War New Orleans up until the present day.  This includes a trip to France, where he encounters a theater troupe of vampires pretending to be humans who pretend to be vampires.  The book is basically Louis coming to terms with the fact that he is a vampire, and all that it implies.

Anne Rice is a good writer, but I’m still unsure whether or not I really liked the book, as the vampires were very emo.  There was a lot of “Oh, I’m depressed because I have to feed on humans to live, which makes me evil, but how can God let me exist when I’m so evil, but I don’t wanna be evil, where the hell is Satan so I can just be damned, oh noes, there is no evidence of Satan, does that make me the highest evil in the universe?  Shit, I’m depressed!”  I can definitely understand the appeal that the novels would have had in high school, where one goes through a new existential crisis every week.  If the vampires weren’t quite so emo, I’d probably finish the series.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

“Sunshine” by Robin McKinley

Normally I’m not a fan of vampire novels, largely because I’ve met far too many Twilight fans.  However, Robin McKinley was one of my favorite authors as a teenager, and so when I saw that she had written a novel for grown-ups, I decided to give it a chance.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world where vampires are a genuine threat to humanity, and are thoroughly evil.  The protagonist, Rae, is a young waitress who is a bit less careful than normal after a fight with her mother and accidentally gets captured by vampires.  She is chained to a wall and left next to Constantine, a vampire who is being held prisoner in sort of a vampire equivalent of gang rivalry.  Instead of eating her, Constantine asks Rae to tell him stories.  Rae eventually remembers her childhood lessons in magic, and she and Constantine work to escape.

Overall, this isn’t a traditional vampire novel.  Vampires aren’t hot or sparkly, but instead are viewed as abhorrent to all.  Rae’s biggest challenge in the novel is whether or not it is morally acceptable to help Constantine.  I’m glad I decided to give this book a chance.  I don’t think that there is much that sets Sunshine apart from McKinley’s YA books, but then, I always thought that her YA books were spectacularly written and were only considered YA because they didn’t talk about sex.

Note:  Just realized that at first glance, this seems kind of like the movie Black Snake Moan, but with vampires.  McKinley wrote Sunshine first, any similarities are coincidental.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

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