Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Steve Niles and Jeff Mariotte
Published by Pocket Star Books
If there is any sub-genre in horror that is overplayed, overdone, and just not scary anymore, it’s vampires. Tragically lonely Gothic blood-drinkers in flowing robes and long hair lamenting their afterlives after being given the “dark gift” line the shelves of bookstores, many of the interchangeable in story and character, with vampires that long to see the sun or find true love in a soulless existence. But wait. Vampires are monsters, aren’t they? They’re vicious beasts, predators that stalk the night in the form of former loved ones. They, by all rights, should be the stuff of nightmares instead of Gothic fantasy. If you’re looking for vampires that are vicious killers, brutal and bloody, and damned happy to be that way, look no further than 30 Days of Night: Rumors of the Undead by Steven Niles and Jeff Mariotte.
For those who haven’t read the original masterpiece, 30 Days of Night, the award-winning graphic novel, tells about the small Alaska town of Barrow, in which when night falls, it stays dark for a month. It is the perfect place for marauding vampires to invade for a non-stop buffet. Set in the same world, Rumors of the Undead picks up with the publication of the original, written by someone who survived the original attack. At her disappearance, FBI agent Andy Gray and his partner Paul Norris investigate. However, the next time Andy sees his partner, a drastic change has overcome him. Teeth like razors and claws for hands are the first of the changes, which also include amazing strength, a thirst for blood, and a vicious streak a mile wide. Andy begins to research the events of Barrow, coming ever closer to unveiling the truth about vampires, but with terrible consequences. His family is slaughtered, he loses his job, and his entire life becomes a trail of blood and bodies as he tries to keep on the move to expose the creatures to the rest of the world.
Authors Steven Niles and Jeff Mariotte work well together in this novel, bringing together style and gripping bloody horror. Niles, who wrote the original 30 Days of Night along with several sequels, created vampires the way they were meant to be. Brutal killers, unremorseful, and, above all, frightening, are his beasts, without so much as a trace of false tragedy. Mariotte, whom readers may know from his more than thirty novels including some in the Buffy universe, is no stranger to the genre and adds his attention to detail to the story with spectacular effects.
The strengths of this book come from the well-rounded portrayal of the characters. Andy Gray is rightfully tortured, obsessive, and the quintessential tragic hero. Through the story, readers are taken with him to the depths of despair, moving from anger to suicidal remorse, to grim determination. His former partner, Paul Norris, is painted vividly as a brash tough-guy from the beginning. His sense of humor is the type that enjoys busting criminals while bending the law himself. However, when the change overtakes him, his twisted sickness evolves into much more, making him the perfect sadistic killer to invade his former partner’s nightmares. Along the way, supporting characters are used sparingly, with only a few coming into prominence.
The real stars of the book, however, are the vampires and the town of Barrow. Mariotte and Niles paint a vivid portrait of a fortress gulag, peopled by those who’ve lived through the attacks and are determined to hold their ground. From the miles of razor wire around the high steel walls to the burning lights, Barrow is as cold as the ice in which it sits. The creatures, however, come across as even colder. Their butchery is described without sparing the reader as they rend flesh from men, women and children. The aftermaths are vividly disturbing, as are the descriptions of the creatures themselves.
There are a few flaws with the book, though they are minor. A few questions of continuity come up, particularly on the subject of where Andy, hopping all over the country, gets his seemingly inexhaustible supply of money. Also, the book flashes through months in a span of only a few pages, which tends to lesson the tension that the authors expertly built only a few pages before.
Do not expect any true resolution from the end of this book, however. Without giving any key points away, it would be fair to call this book the first chapter in a story arc, one which does not appear to be in danger of being resolved any time soon. It builds at break-neck pace throughout its 400 pages, only to come screeching to a halt, literally on the last three pages. On one hand, the ending drops the reader off a cliff. On the other, it will hook the reader into eagerly anticipating the next in this storyline.
On the whole, 30 Days of Night: Rumors of the Undead works on many levels, and is just what hardcore vampire fans have been looking for. Believable characters, tense moments, and a story line that hits like a gut-punch, it is one of those books that readers will find hard to put down. Even without reading the original masterpiece, this book will hook readers and reel them in. Emotional, visceral, and full of creeping dread, it brings vampires back to the world of monsters, and gives horror back an old friend to be afraid of.
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