Christopher Rice’s The Vines: A Dark Entanglement

Cover of The Vines

The Vines was actually the first book by Christopher Rice that I have read, and while I have to admit I wasn’t completely blown away, there were quite a few things in this book to like.

The gist of the story is that a well-off, but less than attractive woman who is old Louisiana money, catches her husband cheating on her on her birthday. Distraught, she retreats to the outdoor gazebo, smashes a wine glass and prepares to slit her wrists. However, her first drop of blood awakens something in the soil, and it displays itself as a vine that grows up around her wrist, sucking the blood from her veins. The vine then proceeds to take care of her cheating husband problem. The woman starts to view it as an ally, a force to wield, but there are complications and the mysterious, deadly force cannot be contained.

This is most definitely a horror story, but there are also some elements of dark fantasy, or dark fairy tale, here. Not only is the presence unleashed a terrifying conceptualization of nature gone wild, but the back story of violence and mystery adds substantially to the darkness of the book. In my mind, it was never daylight in this story.

NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD

So, here is what I liked about the book:

  • I liked that Rice went with a very different kind of menace in this book. It was an interesting combination of earth magic, blood curse, and actually there were some interesting old school sci-fi influences (think Little Shop of Horrors). And, I would also say that it was heavily influenced by the weird. We never really find out what the force is behind the vines – there are people identified as being in control of the situation (the old land owner) but it seems that he really wasn’t in complete control. He was more of a front man for whatever was working behind the scenes, whatever craved blood and revenge.
  • I also liked the character of Blake. I wasn’t prepared for him to end up being the hero of the story, and I love that this is an non-traditional hero. Blake’s scarring from the tragedy inflicted upon him because of his sexuality led him to become someone who was ready for the challenges that he had to face, and who may be able to control the forces for some time into the future. He is an interesting protector figure, and I would say one of the most interesting characters that I’ve encountered in some time.

If you are a fan of dark fantasy and the weird, then you will probably enjoy this book. I know that I will definitely be picking up more of Christopher Rice in the future.

The Dark Future of Justin Cronin’s The Passage

Cover of The PassageI recently finished reading Justin Cronin’s The PassageThis book has garnered quite a bit of attention, and now I can definitely see why. The plot is vampire based, but has the feeling of The Walking Dead, The Strain (also see my previous post), and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Coming in at over 800 pages and covering over a hundred years, this is truly epic vampire fiction. The story starts in modern day United States where scientists are, of course, screwing around and trying to militarize several hardened criminals and one 8-year-old girl. When that doesn’t end particularly well, the story moves ahead to the future where we follow the struggles of Peter Jaxon, a young man who has grown up in a post-apocalyptic world and who finds himself on track to possibly save what’s left of the human race. There is action and adventure, romance, horror, and throughout it all excellent character development.

While Cronin takes his time with the storytelling, he does so with purpose. He builds from the character of Amy, a young girl who has pretty much grown up rough, living in motel rooms with her mother. We are then introduced to Wolgast, the FBI agent who has been procuring test subjects for his supervisor and whose loyalty to his job is seriously tested when one of those subjects turns out to be Amy. After we become invested in these characters and what will happen next to them, Cronin takes us far into the future and introduces us to a new cast of characters, those of one of the last human settlements in existence. The success of getting a reader to reinvest in a whole new set of characters midway through the story is one that has to be applauded. The setting and everything changes, but it works and I was again drawn in by Peter Jaxon and his brother Theo, who work the night watch on the wall surrounding the colony; Michael Fisher, a technical whiz who keeps the lights on, and his sister Sarah, a nurse; Hollis Wilson, the classic good guy; Mausami Patel, who also works the night watch on the wall; Caleb Jones, the younger guy in love with old style high top shoes; and, especially, Alicia Donadio, the lone wolf badass.

Cronin knows just how to hit where it hurts with these characters. At several points happiness seems almost within grasp only to be whisked away, or someone commits an act of bravery only to pay the ultimate price. Figuring out who will live through the various adventures is part of the fun, and it’s one of those books where you hate see someone go down. And, at the center of it all is the mystery of Amy, who and what she is, and what part she will end up playing.

Oh, and there are vampires. Creepy, long-living vampires, who have some major psychological skills when it comes to telepathy torture. Fast, lithe vampires, that are smart enough to figure out traps and make plans. Crafty vampires that travel in pods of three and will case out your position for days in advance before attacking with a vengeance. Strong and hard to kill vampires that require expert marksmanship and amazing luck to outlive. Masses and hordes of vampires almost everywhere — hanging under bridges, hiding in abandoned buildings, creeping through the woods at night. Heartbreaking vampires that always, always return — one last time — to where they lived before they were turned.

Finishing this book definitely made me ready to start the sequel, The Twelve. If you are looking for a lovely, scary book to dig into this Halloween season, this should definitely be on your list!