I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Truants by Lee Markham
Published by The Overlook Press on July 25 2017
Genres: Adult, Horror
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The nitty-gritty: A visceral and bloody tale of a power struggle between two vampires.
On the train, in the tunnels, it is quiet. Nearly last train. Everyone is detritus. As is she. She closes her eyes and floats. Her hands are getting colder. Her heart feels weak. Her wrist aches. Throbs. Insistently. She goes to the place where it hurts and she rides the pain. It keeps her steady. Ensconced in the darkness behind her eyelids the throb acts like a beacon, a dark star for her to orbit. A centre of gravity. A supermassive black hole.
I’ve seen all kinds of mixed reviews for The Truants, which is one sure way to get me excited about a book. If someone loves it and someone doesn’t, then I want to find out why. And when I saw the dark and moody book cover (which by the way is excellent!), I couldn’t wait to get started. The Truants has a lot going for it, although I did have a couple of issues.
Lee Markham gives us a unique take on the vampire mythos. When the story opens, an unnamed “old-one” is sitting on a park bench, waiting for the sun to rise. He’s lamenting the recent loss of his love, who killed herself a week ago on this very bench, leaving behind nothing but scorched wood. But just before the sunrise can take him too, a punk with a knife attacks him, and his blood and essence are absorbed into the knife.
As the boy with the knife moves through the city, he manages to cut or nick more and more people, each one changing as the blood of the old-one enters their systems. Soon the city of London is overrun with vampires, who prey on the city’s “rats.” Even worse, the old-one now lives in each of his victims—watching, controlling, and influencing them. He’s created an army.
But someone is watching this happen, and she’s not happy about it. And there’s only one way to stop the carnage: find the knife and destroy it for good.
The story gets off to a fantastic start. We watch things unfold through multiple points of view, including the knife-wielding punk, a ten-year-old boy named Danny, a toddler named Peter, and a couple of police detectives who are investigating some shocking murders. I have to say the first third of the book was probably my favorite. The writing is gritty yet elegant, and Markham doesn’t flinch when it comes to describing the violence. The setting is depressing: these are people on the fringes of society: drug dealers, addicts, poor and marginalized characters who care more for their next hit than they do for their children (and the first thought I had when I started reading was that this story reminded me a lot of the movie Trainspotting).
If you’re particularly upset by child abuse and animal cruelty, then some of the scenes in this book might push you over the edge. And as much as I hate these things, I have to admit they fit within the context of the story, and so I can’t find fault with the author for including them. After writing hundreds of book reviews, I find I’m able to distance myself from the bad shit that happens in stories and simply evaluate the story on a critical level. Some authors use gratuitous violence that doesn’t make sense, but Lee Markham’s violence is completely at home in this book.
And despite the overall bleak atmosphere, there are some moments of hope and love. Danny is one of the most heartbreaking characters, a young boy who is on his way home to his mum, looking forward to her bolognaise and watching Harry Potter on TV. Except he never makes it. I loved following him through the story, as he goes from a regular kid to a reluctant vampire, and yet throughout he still retains the memories of his loving mum.
But many of the most powerful moments in the story involve grief, and the lost opportunities between two people. The mother of two horrible teens—who to be fair, are horrible probably because their mother is a drug addict herself—experiences regret when she realizes her son John has killed another child. Even though this woman is clearly unfit to be a mother in the first place, I felt for her, maybe because I’m a mother myself.
I did struggle with a couple of things, however. For such a short book, I found the pacing to be uneven. The story moves along at a pretty good pace, but sometimes in the middle of the action it slows down as the author lets the characters do some soul-searching. Now don’t get me wrong—I enjoy when characters reflect on their lives and come to conclusions about their actions, but sections of The Truants bordered on existentialism. It felt more like the author was trying to come to grips with things himself, rather than the characters, and it pulled me out of the story and made me want to skim those parts.
There are a lot of characters in this story, maybe too many, and I’ll admit some of them started to blend together. Probably the most confusing part of the book, though, was the multiple points of view. Not only does the POV move around from character to character, but it also switches from first person to third person, depending on who is speaking. Add in the fact that we don’t even know a few of the characters’ names, and sometimes it took a couple of pages to figure out who was talking.
The Truants isn’t an easy read, but occasionally I like stepping out of my comfort zone. Lee Markham is a skilled wordsmith whose beautiful prose tells a horrible story, and that’s not easy to pull off well. For readers who are willing to take a trip to the dark side, you won’t be disappointed.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version of the book.
**I have an upcoming interview with Lee Markham, so check back soon!