Where to start? There so much that happens in this 800-page novel, which almost defies genre. Is it science fiction? Dystopian? Horror? Probably all of those, and more.
The novel starts in the near future, or what was probably the near future at the time it was written over a decade ago. Humans have discovered a naturally-existing virus that, when it doesn’t kill them, essentially turns people into vampires: long-lived, strong, easily heal, don’t do well in sunlight, etc. As mankind is wont to do, they decided to try to weaponize the virus to create a better military. The test subjects, who were recruited from death row, become vampires without retaining their sense of humanity, instead becoming pure killing machines, and they escape to wreak havoc on the United States, killing or turning millions of people. Fortunately, the doctor behind the experiments could see what was coming down the pike and changed the virus that he used to infect Amy, a 6-year-old orphan. She is similar in longevity to the other “virals” (as the vampires are primarily referred to in the book) but has retained most of her humanity.
About the first third of the book is about that: the experiments, the escape, the acute consequences of the escape as the virals spread across the country. It’s also about Amy’s relationship with Brad Wolgast, the FBI agent who was tasked with bringing her to where the experiment was happening but also helped her escape and became a father figure to her.
Then there was a 90-year time jump. I was prepared for it because I’ve actually read the novel before, several years ago, and I think I read the sequel, but I never got around to reading the last book in the trilogy and wanted to refresh my memory by reading the first two books again and then starting the third. I recall that the first time I read it, the time jump was jarring and displeasing, so I’m glad I knew it was coming. It’s set in a colony in California where some survivors have made a living, or what can be considered a living considering how many of them still die at the hands of virals. These survivors eventually come across Amy and set out on a quest with her to try to get information or aid that will help them continue to survive.
It’s an engaging book, which is important given its length. I read a review of it somewhere that said the writing could be “portentous and slack,” and do I agree that’s the case sometimes. But there’s a lot of action and a lot of questions that keep you reading to find out the answers. It’s a bit gory at times with some of the descriptions of how people die or are killed by virals, which I didn’t love. I’m not very used to reading books with graphic depictions of violence liked that, but that didn’t occur too often (relatively speaking). I’m looking forward to starting the next book.