(2010) Justin Cronin, Orion, hrdbk, £20.00, 784 pp, ISBN 978-0-752-89784-5
The novel begins slowly, with a few hints at what is to come. It establishes the life of Jeanette and her daughter Amy, in an America that turns out to be in the near future. Amy is left at a convent after her mother has to go on the run. Meanwhile a research party is looking for a disease in the jungles of Bolivia. Elsewhere, a convicted death row prisoner called Anthony Carter is transferred. These events lead to a research base, where the military are studying subjects infected with a virus, that will lead to increases in lifespan and endurance. Currently they have in custody 12 virus-induced vampires.
In the novel's opening Cronin concentrates on expanding his characters. For me, this enabled there to good changes of pace: there was a sense of a build up, but the detail given to the cast, gave a greater sense of verisimilitude and the prose was not labouring the attempts to be dramatic.
Eventually the virus subjects escape causing the usual havoc and death. Over ninety years later, a colony of survivors descended from evacuated children, is established in California, facing the threat of the power running out. Then Amy appears at the gates of the colony, seeming to have only aged several years, and apparently knowing a route (passage) to other survivors.
Cronin avoids the familiar descriptions of the undead hordes rampaging in the cities. He chooses the route of accumulating details of society breaking down. This is followed by a flashback in the form of memories of an evacuation by train. The colony is established as having a credible structure, created through the need to survive. Outside the colony, the shattered world is handled well, giving the necessary sense of devastation.
While there are several action scenes, Cronin still concentrates on the leads as they journey outside the protective walls. The vampires have been renamed ‘virals’, but are treated as a lurking threat, rather then having to attack every couple of pages.
Granted, Cronin is working with familiar themes here, but these are handled sufficiently well to differ from other treatments of them. The narrative comes up with enough developments and surprises to hold the attention of the reader.
However, I have read that this novel is the first in a trilogy, which explains an ending that just stops, having set up a way to save the world. I was reminded of the novel Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon from 1987 and The Stand by Stephen King from 1978. Both these books have end of the world scenarios, the survivors recovering, and a confrontation with a manifestation of evil for the climax. Except, both these books, were able to finish their own stories in one long volume.
In conclusion, this is a very enjoyable and interesting read, only marred by the need to not be fully resolved by its end.
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