Tuesday, August 28, 2007

They Hunger - review

Author: Scott Nicholson

First Published: 2007

Contains spoilers

They Hunger is set deep in the Appalachian Mountains and concerns two disparate groups of people. Firstly we have a group of white water rafters who are taking part in the first field test of new rafting equipment. The company are also using the test as a publicity stunt and so the group is not exactly the best chosen. There is Bowie, the group leader and experienced rafter. Robert Raintree, a Native American who is connected to the company but using the trip as an excuse to complete a Spirit Quest - using modern pharmaceuticals. Lane is a company man through and through. CA McKay is a professional cyclist brought along for his profile. Dove, the only female in the group, is the official photographer. Finally Farrengalli is a loud mothed New Yorker who won the opportunity to be there.

Unfortunately for them, also in the wilderness, there is Ace Goodall with his woman Clara. Goodall is know as the ‘Bama Bomber, due to the terrorist attacks who has committed against abortion clinics. He is being tracked by Castle and Rook - two FBI agents.

Castle and Rook are closing in when the more experienced Castle manages to trigger bombs that Ace has trip-wired. Both Agents survive, though Castle is stuck down a cliff face, trapped above a cave that the blast has revealed. As Rook tries to help him something plucks him from the ground carrying him into the sky. There were vampires in the cave, they have escaped and they hunger…

Let’s look at the vampires for a moment. These are bat like, corrupted creatures. When Ace first sees one it is described as “hunched like a monkey”. It then launches into flight and this made the description unfortunate as I immediately thought of flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz! However, as the book progresses the glimpses form a clearer picture until we see that “the face was humanoid, but the bald, blunt dome of skull descended to a sharp, bony chin. The eyes were large and milky, with no pupils, as though the creature had no use for vision.”

It seems at first we are dealing with a separate species, one buried for ages. One then begins to questioned how they survived. It is clear that they have a specialised feeding mechanism as the Rook is not killed but kept in a cave and fed on over time. Unable to escape as the feeding makes him drowsy, bar sexual stimulation in a certain area, from the first instance and we assume some form of enzyme in the saliva. However we eventually find that these are the undead as those killed start to return as more of the creatures.

Here we have a small issue, lack of detail in what we are dealing with. The ideas that Nicholson has put forward are fascinating and quite unique but there is not enough revealed. We hear later of the changing rock, where these creatures make others become like them. This indicates a use of magic and artefact. Then we see the return of characters simply killed in the wilderness - and in one case buried. Is the changing rock necessary, it seems unlikely but we are never told explicitly. I would have liked to see more detail in the vampires’ background (as a collective) and powers.

For instance we see a vampire survive a gunshot to the head and yet another one die after its brains are dashed out. There is no real distinctive why, though perhaps the area of the brain damaged is important - this is only gleaned through hints and may be a wrong assumption. It also appears that stakes (or big wooden spears) do the trick but it isn’t expanded upon. I really would have liked more detail in the lore.

The characters are odd. Obviously the two groups overlap but it is within the characterisation I am looking. Simply put, there isn’t a pleasant, sympathetic character amongst them. They are all flawed deeply, even Bowie - who is the most sympathetic and the main hero - is deeply flawed and fails to carry too much reader sympathy. The biggest problem with the characters is that there are all, somewhat, stereotyped. This can be a problem, but it can also be a boon as it allows us to understand the characters immediately.

That said this is a good little wilderness romp, with vampires, occasional gunplay, a few bombs and a group of characters you would actually like to see chomped upon. It is great to see these feral, animalistic vampires rather than the a-typical romantic vampires. 6 out of 10.

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