Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Drew Stepek
Published by Savage Patch Kids
Vampires have taken a beating lately at the hands of the film and book industries alike. The majority of them are played as poofy, foppish emo guys who scout high schools looking for true love (we’re looking at you, Twilight). But then there’s the other, darker end of the spectrum that contains the brutal killers seen in 30 Days of Night and Stake Land. Somewhere in-between sits Drew Stepek’s novel, Knuckle Supper.
In the Los Angeles of the Knuckle Supper world, drugs are run by vicious street gangs of vampires who bear absolutely no resemblance to Lestat or even Dracula. They get high by overdosing victims, then drinking their drug-laced blood, or they’ll use their freshly-murdered heads like a crackpipe. These gangs (Knucklers, Battlesnakes, and Batwangers) are run by vamps and staffed by wannabes and street kids. RJ, the leader of the Knucklers, comes across an twelve-year-old runaway and prostitute, whom he names “Bait,” which triggers a struggle for power that ends up with all-out gang war. For added fun and mayhem, a church organization called “The Cloth” seems bent on the destruction of the vampires as well.
The first thing that needs to be pointed out about this book is that it is definitely NOT for children or people with weak stomachs or even tender dispositions. It’s raw, bloody, often times disgusting, uncomfortable, and brutal. From the graphic depictions of unmitigated violence to the off-screen gang-bang of an twelve-year-old prostitute, there’s a lot in this book that makes the reader cringe. But that’s the way Stepek wanted it. This book is supposed to explore a magnified view of life on the street for children without glamour, glitz, or mollycoddling. Through the eyes of the two main characters, the reader is introduced to a world where no one cares about age, race, or anything else but getting high and protecting their turf.
The main two characters, RJ and Bait, have real depth to them. From RJ’s filthy living arrangements to Bait’s whining, Stepek paints a vivid picture of a pair of lost souls. The story becomes all the more painful as Bait’s naive preconceptions are ripped away one at a time until she becomes more of a monster than the vampires themselves. RJ’s heroin habit is more of a minor inconvenience as he looks for the truth about what he is and how he came to be. The other characters may as well be set-dressing because they tend to ride one emotion through the whole story, but their shallowness plays well with what the author was trying to accomplish.
Another reason to buy this book is that a percentage of the proceeds (10% of hardback royalties, $1 from every e-copy sold) is donated to the Children of the Night foundation, which is dedicated to rescuing children who have been forced into prostitution in order to survive. Their work to help care for these forgotten children has saved thousands of lives of children who are as young as eleven years old.
Knuckle Supper is not a perfect book. There are a great many editing errors that should’ve been caught before it went to press, and there are a few continuity jumps that will leave readers wondering if they skipped a few lines, but as this was an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), one hopes those errors will be fixed in the final edit. Still, the overall impact is like being hit between the shoulder blades with a cannon.
4 out of 5
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