Archives for posts with tag: vampire

The PassageI tend to avoid reading books that are part of a series. Series create problems. You might be disappointed in future instalments, there’s the distinct possibility there won’t be a finite ending and you’re often left waiting forever for the next book. In the case of The Passage the arrival of Justin Cronin’s next instalment, The Twelve, was enough to convince me that now might be the time to break my rule. There’s just enough closure in The Passage to help me cope with the fact that it’s a trilogy but there are just as many questions left unanswered.

The Passage opens about ten years in the future. The United States’ war in the Middle East has continued for fifteen years, Hurricane Vanessa completely destroyed New Orleans a few years after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. is more militarised, but the world is largely the same. The military have begun a top-secret experiment called ‘Project Noah’ using death row criminals as test subjects, bringing together a disparate group of people including FBI Agent Brad Wolgast, a six year old girl named Amy, a nun from Sierra Leone, and death row inmate Anthony Carter. ‘Project Noah’ turns the inmates into what future generations will term ‘virals’, essentially vampires. These vampiric traits spread like a virus resulting in a pandemic that wipes out most of the United States’ population, and possibly the worlds’. Cronin spends time sharing the back story of these characters, encouraging us get to know them. Then, less than a third in, the story leaps ahead almost one hundred years into a post-apocalyptic world. This change is jarring but allows Cronin to explore how society reorganises itself after a catastrophe, widening his scope to take in cults, religion, and government instead of simply becoming the vampire equivalent of a slasher film.

The concept of vampires as mindless creatures created by a virus becoming the majority species, instead of single beings skulking in the dark, has been imagined before (Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend) but that was a spare, haunting, one man against the world scenario. The Passage is tremendous, epic in its reach. Cronin has taken traditional vampire qualities, their penchant for mind control and their seductive powers, and amped them up, using the relationship between a queen bee and her workers as his template. Cronin also inserts the welcome addition of an almost American road trip-style quest to his tale of vampires, with a large portion of the novel devoted to an intrepid group travelling across the country in search of fellow survivors.

Characters are not The Passage’s strength. There’s the stoic, troubled law enforcement guy, the tough girl, the caring young nurse, the guy who doesn’t think he’s a leader but deep down he is, the nerdy guy. That being said, they’re solid examples of the established archetypes and do their bit to add some emotion to the real strength, the story. Vampires are well-trodden territory and while Cronin doesn’t completely reinvent (I got a slight sense of déjà vu reading The Passage at times) he really knows how to write vividly. His action sequences, in particular, are fervent and heart-pounding, and the air of portent and mystery surrounding Amy’s destiny and the virals’ hidden agenda kept me captivated. The Passage is an exciting page-turner, the type of escapist fun that transports you to another world.

Apocalypse-themed fiction seems to have grown in popularity in recent years. And everyone seems to be reading it, even people that wouldn’t have touched speculative fiction before. Perhaps with the Mayan-predicted apocalypse upon us we all are concerned that the end really is nigh. The Passage, in particular, is eminently readable, and fairly accessible to people who don’t usually read fantasy, horror or science fiction. However, recently someone who’d just started The Passage asked me if she should keep reading it or whether it was just more vampire attacks, death and destruction. The short answer was yes, it is a post-apocalyptic vampire book after all. There’s also hope and love mixed in, if you’re that way inclined. I, personally, love a good vampire attack so I believe I’ll be reading the next instalment soon.

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The tagline on my copy is ‘A vampire love story’, but that doesn’t come anywhere near describing John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In. In a sense, it is a love story but ever since Twilight became popular I think that description does it a disservice. It’s a book about love and growing up; the inclusion of vampires magnifies the terror of loving someone and the courage needed to accept them for who they are.

Let the Right One In takes place in 1980s Stockholm. Twelve year-old Oskar meets Eli, a young girl who seems even odder than Oskar. She only ever comes out at night and never feels the cold. Oskar, bullied and alone, is drawn to Eli and they become friends. When a string of strange murders occur that Oskar suspects are connected to Eli and her ‘father’, Oskar must come to terms with Eli’s true nature or lose his only friend.

Lindqvist has such a visceral way of writing, the descriptions, especially of the blood and horror, are so vivid they stay with you for a long time: ‘The naked, glistening muscles contracted and relaxed, contorting as if the head had been replaced by a mass of freshly killed and butchered eels.’ It’s Lindqvist’s ability to conjure up images like this that make Let the Right One In a great horror novel, it is genuinely chilling and gruesome. It’s also sweet. Oskar and Eli both desperately need someone to understand them and stand by them no matter what, and they find that in each other. Their intimacy makes it difficult to believe that child Eli is the same vampire luring people to their deaths and manipulating her ‘father’, a paedophile named Håkan, into helping her kill.

Håkan is the most terrifying part of the novel. From the outset he is a deeply unsettling character. He’s willing to murder for Eli in exchange for the mere chance of feeling her touch, yet he can’t go through with paying to have sex with an underage prostitute even though he wants to. Håkan’s actions are monstrous but he goes about them with an impotence that somehow makes him even more horrifying. We witness some events from Håkan’s perspective, we know what he’s thinking, that he is scared and pathetic. He’s more than a caricature of evil, making him an unforgettable representation of evil.

Parts of Let the Right One In are deliciously grisly, producing that feeling that horror should elicit. You want to look away, while revelling in being terrified. Yet, the delicate and confusing relationship between Eli and Oskar adds depth, making for an emotionally harrowing tale.

The premise of Let the Right One In, the innocent bond formed between a child and a vampire, leads you to think vampires aren’t necessarily the enemy but Lindqvist doesn’t shy away from showing the pain Eli’s savagery inflicts on others. The story isn’t only told from the isolated perspective of Oskar and Eli but also from that of those Eli hurts, people who see Eli as nothing more than a monster.

I found the depiction of turning into a vampire particularly poignant. Lindqvist really captured the feeling of the all-consuming need to drink blood, and the sad, frightening prospect of being condemned to that life for eternity. He doesn’t glamourise vampirism; it’s a devastatingly isolated life. Lindqvist’s includes in his version of vampire mythology that most vampires kill themselves rather than live with what they are.

Let the Right One In benefits from telling the vampire story through the lives of ordinary Swedish people, instead of on a grand mythic scale. It is original in its complexity in dealing with the mythology, pairing a coming-of-age tale with blood thirsty vampires.