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Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Last Days - review

Although this book is new in Australia, where the author spends part of every year, it has appeared in the US already, in 2006. I thought it well worth commenting on. Here's my review.

THE LAST DAYS By Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld is a prolific - and versatile - writer for teens. His characters are believable teenagers in situations that are often bizarre. His novels begin with lines that pull the reader in. I won’t quote the opening of this one, but it’s no exception.

This novel is a sequel to Peeps. The main characters are new, but it’s set in the same universe and the protagonists from the previous book appear towards the end. While you can more or less pick up what’s going on in this one without having read Peeps, it’s probably a good idea to have read that novel first. It saves time and means you can pick up clues that the novel’s characters can’t.

In Peeps, we met Cal, a nice young man from Texas who had lost his virginity to a woman he met in a New York bar one night. He discovered, soon afterwards, that he’d caught something a lot nastier than a venereal disease - and he’d spread it. Joining a mysterious organisation called the Night Watch, he tried to make things right.

Vampirism, in Westerfeld’s universe, is not about being undead, but about being infected by a parasite. Vampires don’t need to bite you to make you one of them, though they might eat you if they think you’re pretty enough. A kiss will do it, or even a cat breathing on you while you sleep. If you’re lucky, like Cal, the hero of Peeps, you might be a carrier, rather than a victim. If you’re not lucky, you find yourself hating things you used to love, running away from it all to live in holes and tunnels, with rats for company and possibly having a taste for human flesh. It’s controllable; the vampire members of the Night Watch, known as angels, go “vampire hunting” with the aim of catching and treating other victims. Vampires are always hungry and usually horny, because the parasite needs feeding and wants to spread. In exchange, the vampire gets unusual speed and strength and centuries of life, just like the traditional kind. And they’re here for a reason. They’re the only ones strong enough to fight something much worse...

In The Last Days, five teenagers form a rock band in a New York which is being gradually abandoned. Parts of the city are overflowing with rubbish and rats, because the rubbish collectors will no longer go there. The lead singer is a vampire girl whose parents have tried to keep her illness under control. The drummer is a girl with some psychic abilities. There are two boys and a rich girl who doesn’t understand, yet, why all her friends from music school are leaving the city.

As they come to realise the truth, they also find that their music has the power to help save the world - at huge risk to themselves.

This is one helluva rip-roaring thriller. It’s also closer to SF than horror. Westerfeld takes a lot of trouble to explain how it might work, and very convincing it is, too.

Well worth a read.

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