by Justin Cronin
Cover Artist: Tom Hallman
Review by Steve Sawicki
Ballantine Books Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345528179
Date: 31 July 2012 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Amy, six years old and abandoned by her mother at a convent, is picked up by two FBI agents and brought to a secret base in Colorado. Experiments are being conducted at the base, experiments designed to create super soldiers--humans with superior capacities. The experiments go wrong, the subjects of the experiments escape and Amy only survives when the FBI agents who brought her in decide to save her at the last minute. Little do any of them know that the events occurring at that moment will change the future of humankind on Earth.
The experimental subjects have all escaped and are busy infecting their way across the country. The infection resembles vampirism--yearning for blood, passing on the infection through bites, needing seclusion during the day, and an urge to return home. While the FBI agents hide out with Amy the world is destroyed.
Eventually enclaves are established--groups of the uninfected who have managed to band together to fight off the infected or virals as they are called. Time passes and in one such encampment a young girl appears. She has managed to wander through viral infested lands, somehow, without being molested. Shortly after her arrival the encampment is attacked, insanity follows and those who can must flee.
A short while later those who have fled realize that the young girl among them is one of the original infected, and the one chance humanity might have to strike back at the virals. But first they have to get to Colorado and the original facility.
This book is structured in unusual ways. It's divided into thirds. The first third contains the story of the experimentation, the initial test subjects--all murderers on death row--and their break out. The middle part of the book is the story of the enclaves, or one of them, perhaps the first, and how society has changed over the decades since the rise of the virals. The final third of the book contains the story of Amy's return to the original test site. Because of the structure, Amy, as a character, falls off the radar screen for a good chunk of the middle of the book. So, this is not a linear story in any sense of the word, at least not linear in the character sense. The division does work as a narrative although the narrative flow is, as you would guess, a bit choppy where the pieces come together.
Overall this is a pretty fun book to read. It's a combination of post-apocalyptic thriller and vampire novel, although the infected are more bestial than anything else, so they do not play a major role in the emotional narrative. This is also a big story, spanning decades and generations and it's a testament to Cronin that he is able to keep it all together and tie it all up by the end. But, then, this is also a big book, coming in at close to nine hundred pages so there is plenty of room to play in.
I would recommend the book. The only caveat is that there appears to be a sequel (The Twelve) so things may not be as tied up as they appear. Fun, dense, interesting, and entertaining.