Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Blackest Plague: Revenge Cometh – review

Author: Sheila Marie Hamilton

First Published: 2011

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Over six hundred years ago, a group of well meaning alchemists set out to find cures for the deadliest diseases of the time: bubonic plague, small pox, and influenza to name a few. Unfortunately, the animals they were testing on were riddled with the very illnesses they were looking to cure. These diseases co-mingled and a new virus emerged, one that affects human telomeres—a key component in aging—thus bestowing immortality to those infected. Immortality, however, comes with a price.

Thirty-two-year-old prosecutor Brice Marshall has dedicated his life to being the voice for the victim. Roles are reversed, however, when he wakes up to find himself in a strange place, disorientated and weak. After a daring escape to freedom, Brice struggles to find his way back to civilisation only to realise the civilisation he left behind no longer exists. He is instead thrust into the world of the infected; a world that must be kept secret from mortals at all costs. They wouldn’t understand the need for blood, that it is part of the virus. Unfortunately, the man who infected him has different plans and Brice finds himself in a battle to not only save those infected, but all of humanity as well.

A brooding meditation on immortality, Hamilton’s scientifically complex mythology breathes life into centuries-old legends, delivering a sharp rebuke of the human inclination to single out others for inherent differences rather than embrace our diversity. Full of malevolence and almost unbearable tension, The Blackest Plague: Revenge Cometh will shock your senses and broaden your mind.

The review: The Blackest Plague takes the idea of vampirism as a virus and runs with it, creating a world in which the vampires are infected with a virus that literally repairs their bodies and systems and leaves their own body capacity to produce red blood cells behind as it voraciously eats up the body’s internal energy, causing the functional lifetime of the red blood cells to be dramatically decreased as they meet the body’s demand for oxygen. As a result they need to take in more red cells – orally or by transfusion.

This then explains their quick healing and longevity but also their inability to go out is sunlight – they can, but the UV damage causes the virus to go into repair overdrive and use up their red blood cells that much quicker. Of course the cynic might ask, why doesn’t stomach acid destroy the red blood cells when ingested? Hamilton doesn’t answer that but acknowledges the question, with her characters unaware of the answer and citing adaptation.

The virus leaves the infected essentially immortal (so long as they can get blood, or else the body self-cannibalises as it tries to find red blood cells to use), that little bit stronger and, for some reason, able to read minds and implant suggestions. The vampires have created a society for themselves, with their own form of law enforcement.

The bad guy in the book – Sire – is not enamoured with vampire society, he seeks to overthrow the ruling body and start a dictatorship in which the non-infected are kept as livestock. Brice is one of many kidnapped and turned, who will then be brainwashed and set up as his own army. This is not the beginning of a plan but a decade into his plot. As it is, Brice turns quicker than normal, awakens in a grave like cell and manages to escape. Found by Julian and Nicholas – brothers and hunters for the vampire law enforcement – his existence causes Sire’s plans to be exposed and begin to unravel.

Looking at the final paragraph of the blurb for a moment, the idea that this is either “A brooding meditation on immortality” or “a sharp rebuke of the human inclination to single out others for inherent differences rather than embrace our diversity”, is perhaps a little strong. I have no doubt that a pro-diversity stance is part of Hamilton’s agenda, but I don’t know if I read a sharp rebuke in the text. Certainly there are themes around immortality in there, however, Brice is too new at it to actually meditate on it… perhaps the beginnings of a brooding meditation would be more accurate.

However it is within Brice that we get the strength of the novel. He doesn’t suddenly become a vampiric superhero, he is scared, out of his depth but willing to try and stop the creature threatening the new society he is brought into. Julian and Nicholas are flawed as characters as well, Nicholas too impulsive, Julian too reserved, and this also works in the novel's favour.

The book reads well, the text flowing nicely, though perhaps the reveal at the end opened up a few more questions than were answered. That said the main characters, again, did not have all the answers. A nice twist within the genre. 6.5 out of 10.

No comments: