The Vault

The Vault by Emily McKay is not a series I wanted to end. I mean, until I started reading apocalyptic and dystopian fiction I had no interest in vampires. This book also have an autistic character as one of the main characters, and I have some conflicted conditions about that disorder after the measles epidemic this summer due to parents who did not want to vaccinate their kids because they mistakenly believe that vaccinations cause it when it does not, all it does it put other children at risk.

So why did I like this series and particularly last book so much when it already had many strikes against it? The characters were well-written and they just felt real. I think too many teen characters come across as immature or too love-struck and that wasn’t the case with Lily and Carter, nor was there the overused plot device of a love triangle. No, the biggest love was actually between Lily and her autistic sister and twin Mel.   Even with difficulties in communicating, the two have an amazing bond, and in this final book Mel became much more vivid as a character and strong person in her own right, not someone who everyone else has to be taking care of and I liked that.

Yes, this is definitely not Twilight for those who start drooling at the mention of vampires. No, in this book vampires are largely cruel and their twisted kin the ‘Ticks’ are truly frightening, as unlike their vampire brethren, their minds are gone and they are driven not by logic or emotions but instinct and need. A Tick is exactly what Lily will turn into if her boyfriend Carter and her sister Mel can’t find the antidote because you see Ticks are not supernatural creatures, they were created by a vampire who was actually trying to develop a cure for cancer and was helped by a human crew. You see, in this book it isn’t necessarily all vampires against humans, it’s vampires against vampires and humans against humans. After all, Lily and Mels father is one of those humans, the guards at the camps where teens are kept as a blood source for Ticks set teens against teens. Sabrina, a former human and Abductura goes after Sebastian, a vampire. There is plenty of tension in this book for people who enjoy both emotional and physical tension.

The story unfolds in alternating chapter by the main characters. That’s another thing I liked about this book, in most stories there is really one main character and a cast of supporting characters, or at most two main characters. I would argue that The Vault has not only four strong main characters, but some pretty strong supporting characters too that if this were a TV show would easily get their own spinoff series as each one brings a unique perspective to the overarching story.

 

SYLO

When I first moved to the Seattle area I envisioned possibly living on one of the nearby islands and taking the ferry into the city for work or just for entertainment. It seems like an idyllic existence, so I can understand the complete shock when this serene lifestyle is shattered by the military showing up to quarantine an island due to a deadly virus. That’s the premise of SYLO by D.J. MacHale.

Tucker, a teen who helps out with his Dad’s landscaping business likes island life and didn’t resist much when his parents relocated the family to Pemberwick Island in Maine. What’s not to like? He has a brainy best friend, Quinn, a happy family life, a spot on the football team and two girls he has an eye on. Then Marty, a superstar of the football team drops dead after Tucker notices that something seems off about him. However, things happen and Tucker isn’t particularly alarmed until he and Quinn head out for a midnight bike ride and encounter something they can’t even fully understand but is sinister enough for them to contact local police.

Overall, Tucker is a good kid, so when the mysterious Mr. Feit encourages him to try some health crystals, he knows in his gut that something isn’t right, though the idea of being a football star and gaining the attention of his girl crushes is definitely a temptation. How these different events connect and impact the life of Tucker and all the islanders is what the story is built on.

Funnily enough, I could see some of the plotlines from a mile away, but the overarching story and mystery wasn’t something I was able to figure out, even by the end of the book (of course there’s a sequel), if it had been as easy as the smaller plots I would have put down the book as unfortunately I found the characterization to be weak. Tucker is a good kid, but just kind of falls into the mystery of what happens on the island, he reacts rather than acts. Quinn is the brainy sidekick who serves to help figure out the mysterious takeover of the island and what they should do. Kent is the rich spoiled jock of every high school movie. Captain Granger is such the stereotypical hard ass military man villain. How can he know everything about everyone and get to the site of events so quickly? Is he both omniscient and superhuman?

Even the female characters aren’t as weak as Tucker. In fact, Tori has bigger cajones than Tucker, and there’s more to Olivia than this first book is revealing, I am sure of it. However, while I felt that the female characters were way more interesting, I didn’t like there they were used as writer’s fodder for the overdone love triangle.

The only reason I will even read the next one is to confirm who the real enemy is and the reason why the events of the book even started in the first place.

The Hunt

The Hunt series by Andrew Fukuda is no Twilight, and I mean that as a great compliment. No disrespect to Stephanie Meyer but the difference between the Twilight series and this is like the difference between a work of classic literature and a paperback beach novel. The latter can be an entertaining read, but the former elevates the concept of vampires into an epic piece of literature. In the Twilight series the vampires are good looking, romantic and even sensitive. In The Hunt they drool and clack their teeth in a horrifying way when they think prey is near.

Prey would be people who are dehumanizingly referred to as hefers. In the world of Gene, a virus has turned most of the population into vampires who have to survive on synthetic or animal meat as they have hunted the humans almost into extinction, to find a live one and consume it is the equivalent of a heroin addict getting a fix.

In most apocalyptic or dystopian books tension is achieved by the characters reacting to the situation, in the case of Gene an exquisite tension is built because he cannot react. Gene’s mother and sister were killed by vampires when he was a young boy and his father was bitten and ran into the sunlight rather then turn vampire not many years later. Gene has been left all alone to survive in a world surrounded by vampires. He was taught the rules by his father. Don’t laugh or draw attention to yourself, and don’t sweat and let them smell you. He has to follow a very complicated grooming ritual everyday to hide what he really is. He has to sit in a classroom every day surrounded by killers. He has to suppress all the things that make him human in order to survive. Most of all he has to survive the loneliness of being one of the last of his kind.

Then in a twisted turn on the Games in The Hunger Games, Gene holds the winning lottery ticket to participate in the Hunt. Only in this book, he is the Hunter not the Hunted. Once a year to raise morale in the kingdom, lucky lottery winners are selected to participate in an event to hunt some of the few remaining hefers. Gene tries everything to not participate as those selected will all be bunking down together where he cannot keep up the charade of what he is day and night. He also can’t be part of the Hunt because the physical exertion would cause him to sweat and reveal what he really is. However, physical exertion is not the only thing that might make him sweat, there is his classmate Ashley June, a beautiful redhead and fellow lucky lottery winner.

How Gene will manage these events creates an almost unbearable suspense that will torture readers in the best way.

The End Games

The premise of the End Games by T. Michael Martin seemed promising.  Teenager Michael and his five-year old brother have been battling monsters, zombie like creatures, in the Game directed by the Game Master who promises to lead them to safety and other survivors if they win the game.   Basically it seemed like it would be a story like the Running Man wrapped inside an apocalyptic novel.  It wasn’t.   The Game was more a reference to video games, and not being a gamer, maybe that’s why I didn’t appreciate all the references and silly dialogue that related to that.

What the book was about is harder to describe.  It seemed like the author took elements (done better in other apocalyptic and dystopian novels and movies) and mixed them all together like a stew in this book.  Religious fanatics who see the zombies as some sign and worship them, references to a mystical and higher power, a mysterious military leader straight out of any action film, and a main character with a troubled life, a la Angelfall and This Is Not A Test, who turns that background into a tool to survive.  There were even some hints about supernatural and evil an alien or horror movie.   I wish the author had just focused on one strong main narrative instead of being all over the map.  There was even an awkward teen romance that was hard to swallow, I mean in the middle of the zombie apocalypse would you really be worried about a first kiss?  Yes, there have been some romances in other apocalyptic books, but they are more based on closeness built upon helping each other survive, not a shallow teen crush.

 I also found the character of the little brother more annoying than cute and heartwarming, certainly five is old enough to know that the zombies are real when you have watched them kill and eat people.  Honestly, if I were Michael I would have told the kid to get a clue and shut up. 

The only part of the book that I thought was strong was Michael’s inner dialogue when he was begging to be rescued or saved.  I think everyone can relate to having at some point being in a bad situation in their life where you loudly ask in your head for help, you plead, you bargain and you hope magically somehow help will arrive.  Then other times you accept that no one is riding in on a horse to save you and you just have to will yourself to take the next step and the one after that.