Written by Monica J. O’Rourke
Published by Sinister Grin Press
What Happens in the Darkness offers front row seats to the destruction of humankind. It’s the fall of civilization from the perspective of a twelve-year-old girl (and a band of other survivors) that plunges us headlong into a world where fighter jets scramble overhead and mysterious creatures lurk in the shadows. Everything’s gone to hell, we know this much. But why?
With New York City crumbling, Janelle finds herself on an uneasy quest for survival. She meets a group of survivors and is tempted by a nightmarish man with a penchant for rats. The girl is young, traumatized and struggling to navigate an unthinkable situation.
The novel juggles her perspective with a few others: soldiers and also “good” vampires who begrudgingly agree to help repel the invasion of their own kind.
What Happens in the Darkness recalls F. Paul Wilson’s Midnight Mass (one of my all-time favorites) in a number of ways—none of them derivative. I mention it only because both novels offer vivid depictions of an obliterated East Coast in the wake of a vampire attack. The struggle for survival is uncompromising, and both books are not without interesting story developments that keep the pages turning. Like in Wilson’s vampire favorite, O’Rourke shows a similar gift for pacing without sacrificing the kind of character depth and development that stories like this need to resonate.
I know there’s a lot of apocalyptic fiction out there these days, but What Happens in the Darkness stands distinguished for a number of reasons. It’s cool to see a novel fashioned around the beginning of the end. We’re in on the ground floor, watching these characters struggle to comprehend and cope with the chaos around them. This is also a story with numerous angles. Everyone has his or her own motivations and allegiances, adding a nice bit of ongoing tension.
I have been a tad burnt out on vampires, but this take is energizing. These aren’t the sparkly Twilight kind, obviously, but they’re not explicitly evil either. These bloodsuckers fall somewhere into greyscale, giving the book more depth than you might expect. O’Rourke does this without sacrificing their intimidation or creepiness. One small scene that stands out is a moment towards the end where a character is reunited with a loved one who has become a vampire. It doesn’t play out as you’d expect, but it’s exactly because of this that it works and resonates. It leaves us with a feeling that this world has changed forever, and the implications of it are rather frightening.
Because of these elements I found What Happens in the Darkness to be a fantastic read. Action-packed, but with plenty of chilling bits along the way, it hits the ground running and never really stops.
4 out of 5