Scott Westerfeld, The Last Days

Scott Westerfeld's new YA novel The Last Days is a sequel to his earlier Peeps, so technically, it's a book about teenage vampires. Only really it's a book about a bunch of misfit kids forming a band and trying to make it big. While the Vampire Apocalypse happens around them.

In Peeps, we learn of the existence of a parasite that infects humans, and gives them vampire-like abilities (strength, speed, heightened senses) and some of the drawbacks of classic vampirism (things they used to love become anathema to them). The story there alternates with sections describing the actions of freaky real-world parasites, some of which don't seem much less probable than the vampire parasite.

At the end of that book, we learn a little more about the origins and purpose of vampirism. There's also a suggestion that things are about to get Very Bad Indeed for normal humans.

The Last Days takes place not long after the events of Peeps, and follows the adventures of a group of kids trying to become rock stars. It starts out alternating between the point-of-view of Moz (short for "Mosquito," real name never given) and Pearl, who meet when they see a crazy woman throwing a 1975 Fender Stratocaster out a window, and gradually widens (as they add players) to include Zahler (Moz's original bandmate), Alana Ray (the street drummer they recruit), and Pearl's friend Minerva, a girl with some medical issues that will look familiar to readers of the previous book. They put together a band, and find a certain musical chemistry, but Weird Stuff keeps happening around them, and it's clear that all is not as it seems.

(Spoiler-free review continues beneath the fold; spoiler-filled comments will follow in another post.)

In fact, if you've read the prvious book, it's clear that New York is starting to fall to the Vampire Apocalypse hinted at in the previous book. Only Our Intrepid Heroes are so wrapped up in their band that they don't really notice the city falling apart around them. There are some wonderful Shaun of the Dead type scenes as a result, where they don't quite pick up that things just aren't right.

The real strength of the book, as with Peeps and So Yesterday is the narrative voice. Or, rather, voices, because it rotates through different POV sections. Whichever head you're in, though, the voice is nicely distinct, and they all ring true. I particularly like the scene where Moz and Minerva first meet:

Minerva turned to me and said softly, "See you next week."

I nodded, swallowing, suddenly glad she was weaing those dark glasses. I wondered how many fewer stupid things I'd have said in my life if all pretty girls wore them. "I'll totally be there."

Okay, maybe not that many.

There are a lot of things to like about this book. In addition to the high quality of the narration, Westerfeld does a nice job of conveying the feel of the music without being too specific (which is the great pitfall of band novels). He also uses a nice little dodge to get out of having to supply lyrics for the songs (which is the other great pitfall of band novels). The action builds slowly, but when everything comes together toward the end, all the slowly set up bits click into place in a satisfying way.

There are a couple of things that sort of bother me about the ending, but then, I read the last several chapters in the emergency room at a local hospital (Kate had some stomach issues, but she's fine now), which perhaps isn't entirely fair to the book. It's more or less impossible to discuss those without massive spoilers, though, so I'll put that stuff in another post.

Some minor quibbles about the ending aside, this is a very good book. I don't think it would work without having read Peeps, so you want to start there, but if you read Peeps and liked it, this is a worthy sequel: it's a very different book, but has most of the qualities that made Peeps work so well. And if you haven't read Peeps go buy it.

And check out Westerblog, while you're at it.


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