Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Last Days – review

Author: Scott Westerfeld

First published: 2007 (UK)

Contains spoilers

This is the sequel to Parasite Positive and to give a quick recap, the previous book concerned peeps, people infected by a parasite that essentially made them vampires and followed the adventures of Cal a carrier of the parasite working for an organisation called the Night Watch dedicated to catching the parasite positives. By the end of that book we realised that this was the start of something bigger, something apocalyptic.

One would have thought that Westerfeld would have opened this volume up to that more global, catastrophic storyline but instead he turns inwards and makes this volume micro focused. It follows several teenagers who form a band as the world ends, almost unseen, around them. People are going crazy and vanishing, black water is spewing up through the fire hydrants of New York and rats are over-running the city and yet these five focus on their music.

There is Moz and Zahler, who were jamming together for years until they met Pearl, a Juliard student looking for something more earthy and real. Their drummer is autistic Alana Ray who seems to see music and suffer hallucinations as a result and the vocalist is Minerva, a vampire. Of course none of them realise that the illness she has is vampirism. Minerva has not been helped by the Night Watch, after she became ill her parents hired an esoterica who has used folk remedies that have given her some form of control.

As the blurb states their music creates “the soundtrack for the end of the world.”

This change of focus is interesting and works very well indeed, instead of getting lost in the grand events we become embedded in the thoughts and actions of these five. In the last book the character Cal narrated, and was an excellent narrator at that, but Westerfeld has proved himself a master of creating narrators as we get five, all different in outlook, and that gives a fascinating series of viewpoints through the book.

The parasite discussions between chapters have gone, though we get some historical perspective through short clips of the writing of the Night Mayor.

If I had a complaint it would be around the ending. The apocalyptic story comes to the fore and then winds up very quickly through the last 39 pages and feels a little anti-climactic because of this. The feeling probably stems from the fact that the story is actually wound up completely leaving little room for a further volume – although there is room for further stories in that universe – and that impression is rather sad as the book is thoroughly engrossing.

That aside, this is an excellent, fast paced, character driven novel with a back drop of music, vampires and the apocalypse. 8 out of 10.

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