Ambitious and inventive, Vigil explores different dimensions surrounding the myth of the vampire while remaining true to the genre’s central tenet. It’s brutal and bleak; expansive but not pretentious. It extends the saga of the near-immortal blood-guzzling monster into tomorrow, a carefully considered and entirely credible post-apocalyptic future, where nukes have been used as a weapon of last resort to wipe out the contagion. And they failed. But that’s only half the story.
The narrative splits between the desperate struggle for survival of a besieged human enclave in France, and the century-spanning saga of the central character. We’re with him when he wakes for the first time, in pain and knowing only hunger, and travel through hundreds of years as he matures into a knowing and intriguing central character: almost moral, if far from mortal.
This isn’t a book for anyone who likes cuddly vampires, or dandy vampires, or sparkly vampires, or vegetarian vampires. These are the ‘red in tooth and claw’ kind, born brutal, at home on the Transylvanian battlefields, capable of extreme cruelty. And capable of surviving extreme torment at the hands of humans, if ever caught when weakened. They are killers, and human are prey (although the tables can be turned…)
The protagonist survives long enough to become aware of greater forces. He skims human society at some of its most interesting moments – the Spanish Inquisition, the World Wars. Finally, the past of flashbacks meets up with the near future and an audacious plot twist worthy of the finest sci-fi.
So it’s hard to categorise Vigil. It’s undoubtedly horrific; majors on several key historical moments; romps along like the very best thriller and steers seamlessly into the territory of speculative fantasy.
What it most definitely is… is a gripping accomplishment. I was glued to the pages, trying to slow my reading pace to make the experience last longer, but failing dismally. Author Craig Saunders has penned a thoroughly satisfying tale; necessarily bloody in places, but creative and carefully crafted throughout. Where other writers might’ve wanted to spin out a series, he’s wisely opted to tell this story in a single, extremely satisfying instalment.
Definitely recommended for fans of Stephen King, Anne Rice’s early work, and Kim Newman – imagine the best aspects of all three, and this book doesn’t fall far short.