I’ve been looking forward to Lauryn April’s new series and’ Unearthed After Sunset’ the first of ‘The Cereus Vampire Chronicles’, was anything but a disappointment.
In fact, I the writing is better than ever. There is increasing and impressive strength and flow to the style. One of the things I like about some YA writing is that you will find more maturity in approach than you can in many books intended for so-called adults. That is certainly true here.
We first met the male lead, Greg Erikson, aged twenty-three and something of a drifter, in a bar where he has headed after a series of bathetic misfortunes:
‘I’d failed the summer class I needed to graduate, lost my internship at Douglass and Smith Publishing, got fired from the terrible landscaping job I picked up to cover the bills, and to top it off, my girlfriend dumped me because I’d kept all of that a secret.’
I had to warm to this anti hero – he’s so believable, and sympathetic in his character defects – that drifting, his urge to belong –as he is in his strengths – his unsparing self honesty, his self deprecating humour, and his capacity for loyalty and courage.
Events move quickly. Greg meets a pretty girl, Caroline, and dismayed as he is over the break up with his former girlfriend, he is nevertheless drawn to her; t he takes her number, and suddenly finds himself kissing her.
Then he sets of to the friend with whom he plans to stay – taking a short cut, it still being light – through a cemetery.
Here he sees Caroline set on by a couple of men. As he runs to her aid, she stabs them with a stake and they turn to dust. She urges Greg to leave and to forget what he has seen.
Instead, he hides and spies on her from a crypt as she is joined by her father. More vampires appear, the fighting recommences, and Greg realises that incredibly, they are modern day vampire hunters.
But then he is set on himself – by the siren Lila. He wakes up in his coffin, scrabbles his way out, and finds her waiting for her new recruit to the gang of vampires run by the merciless predator Santo. He leads his gang in a doubled edged power struggle against a rival group of vampires, known as the Nosferatu, whilst simultaneously waging war against the vampire hunters.
During this time, Caroline is continuing with her day-to-day life in destroying vampires.
Twenty-year-old Caroline is as appealing a female lead as Greg is a male lead. Though she might be a member of the hereditary Order of Iowa, sworn in because her older brother Michael was killed a year ago by vampires, she retains much of her old personality, the fun loving girl student with two inseparable best friends who loves to go out and who finds her parents’ protectiveness irksome. Her insouciant description of the governing body of the Order of Iona is typical:
‘The Committee that governed us was made up of wrinkly old hunters who didn’t die on the job, and they spent their retirement years like nosy neighbors keeping tabs on the rest of us.’
Meanwhile, as part of Santo’s group, Greg – now renamed Archer for his prowess with a hunter’s bow and arrows –is soon happy to discard as much of his lingering humanity as he can. He never fitted in before, wherever he went. Now he has a life outside society’s rules, where he feels that instead of being a dead monster, he is all powerful, at the top of the food chain, invulnerable to anything but sunlight and Transylvannian Sage. Now he can live without remorse or regret, seeing humans much as most meat eating humans see farm animals.
His new life is one of daily brutality where he attacks people and lets them live, or attacks them as kills, without compunction.
Meanwhile, Santo is eager to extend his power base, and his group have a hideous recruitment drive.
Greg is puzzled by this obsession of the group leader to stay in that particular part of Phoenix, constantly in conflict with the Nosferatau, when as vampires they can travel to and live anywhere in the world, but Santo has good reasons; it is rumoured that the vampire hunters may have access to a cure for sunlight being fatal for vampires…
…Or is this cure something else?
Yet, Greg cannot entirely throw off his feelings of regret about Caroline, and what might have been. He was human when he met and kissed her; he is a dead and a monster when he starts his relationship with the enticing but merciless Lila. All that he has lost is bound up with those budding feeling for Caroline.
When they met Greg cannot regard Caroline entirely as an enemy. This is true for Caroline too: for she has learnt something that makes her hope that all vampires are not evil.
There is a good deal of horror in this story, but it is never gratuitously violent. The hideous turf wars between the vampires is vividly depicted and the sheer horror of Greg’s transformation to the monstrous Archer is unsparingly portrayed, but there is a great deal of contrasting human (or part human) feeling, and there are wonderful touches of light relief.
I have always enjoyed the humour in Lauryn April’s books, and this one is no exception. For instance:
‘Rival vampire gang sounded like the name of a terrible punk rock band.’
‘I also didn’t understand why we were fighting so hard to stay here. It seemed there were probably better places we could be.’
‘He wasn’t the most pleasant company. Vera told me he threw a lamp at her.’
“You stay on the couch. If you so much as knock on my bedroom door, I’ll stake you.”
“Yes ma ‘am.”
Caroline rolled her eyes and walked to her bedroom.’
And here are some of my other favourite quotes; they vary from the stirring to the horrific, to the touching to the tragic:
‘Our blows fell into a rhythm after that. I’d swing, she’d duck. She’d kick, I’d block. Our movements felt whimsical, as if we’d created some kind of combat-waltz and I was intoxicated by our dance. Every hit left me feeling alive. Then Caroline landed a solid kick to my chest, and lifted her stake, readying to drive it through my chest. I stumbled back, and finally realized this wasn’t a dance.’
‘A slurping noise filled the air as Marcus released the blood bag.’
‘Fingers emerged like fat white worms slithering up through the dirt. His hands came next, grasping at the grass. Moments later his arms were free and soon his dirt-smeared face emerged.’
‘The girls are getting dinner ready.” (No sexism in this arrangement; something even worse!)
‘The amber glow caressed him like a lover’s embrace.’
‘A metal trash bin caught my eye. I suddenly couldn’t stand the thought of it standing there, watching her. I knocked it over with such force that the can dented, the lid flew off, and garbage spilled out. She didn’t deserve this.’
‘“So, what? You’re like, a good vampire? I thought you said this wasn’t like TV?”
I stormed forward until I stood only inches from her. She leaned back in her chair, holding her breath. “I’m choosing to be different. If you don’t believe me, then kill me. That’s your job, hunter. But I’m hoping maybe you’re more than your label too.”’
“The thirst for blood. The excitement of violence. The thrill of taking what you want with no regard to the consequences. Being bad can be a lot of fun.”
‘I’d never spent this much time looking at a vampire before and my hair stood on end as I neared. I’d never been able to be this close without having to fight for my life. Really, there wasn’t anything different about him and yet somehow, he looked – wrong. I realized how incredibly still he was, like a living photograph. His chest didn’t rise or fall. He didn’t breathe. Of course, he’s not breathing, he’s a vampire. Things were different when he was awake. He was so animated then. Now he lay completely motionless. Ice ran through my veins and I jumped back a step. Archer didn’t just look motionless, he looked dead. Despite knowing he would wake, an eerie sensation overcame me with the realization that I stared at a corpse.;
‘”I’m not the good guy. I know that. I’ll never be the hero of the story, not even if I try. That’s just not the way things are, and that’s okay.”’
The pace is fast, the characters vivid, the moral approach never simplistic, the conflicted reluctant tenderness between Greg and Caroline sensitively and believably portrayed, and generally I am eager to read the next in the series.
You can buy this book on Amazon.com here