Ever thought being a vampire would be cool? Read A.M. Jenkins's Night Road and you're likely to change your mind. The undead characters in this book actually despise the term "vampire" and all of the horror movie connotations it carries. They prefer to call themselves hemovores, or blood drinkers. The hemes have been around for centuries and over the years have established The Colony, a safe house in New York City where they live protected from the sun and surrounded by doting omnis (short for omnivores, or humans) who have become addicted to giving their blood. The hemes don't take too much from their victims because if they drain an omni, it creates another heme. And the hemes know all to well that their lives aren't glamorous. They're basically parasites who suffer from a disease. They don't have superpowers, they suffer from the Thirst, and they can't die, not even if they want to. They can, however, feel pain. The pain is real and vicious. They just heal faster than the average bear.
Cole, eternally eighteen-years-old, hasn't been back to the Colony in years. He left after he turned the girl he loved into a creature like himself, and the end result was, well. . . not good. In fact, finding out what happened to Bess is one of the creepiest parts of this novel. Ever since the disaster with his girlfriend, Cole has been careful, living a life of the utmost control, blending into his surroundings, never standing out, never getting attached to anyone. What's the point of loving anyone when they will only age and die, leaving Cole alone and bitter? So Cole wanders. But he is summoned back to the Colony one day and when he gets there, he learns that an old friend has unintentionally created a new heme. Gordon's his name but the other hemes call him "the Accident." Gordon is young, immature, and out of control. It becomes Cole's responsibility to take Gordon on the road and teach him the ropes of being a heme, but Gordon is focused on getting back to his home town and seeing the girlfriend he attacked after he turned.
I have loved everything I've ever read by A.M. Jenkins and Night Road is no exception. I loved seeing a new take on the vampire tale. Vampires seem to be exploding all over teen literature these days and this is a fresh idea in an over clogged genre. This book really makes you consider the drawbacks and the limitations that some other novels tend to gloss over, favoring the pomp and glamour of the undead story line instead. Jenkins makes you think: What does it mean not to be fully human any longer? What would it be never to feel the sun on your face? To watch everyone you ever loved age and die? Never to be able to drink anything but blood? To have to hide? What would it really be like to be immortal with all of these limitations placed upon you? And most of all, how do you get over the guilt of destroying the person you once loved?
This isn't really the book for readers who liked Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, even if they both are about vampires. This is a book about guilt, bitterness, and responsibility, from a male point of view. There are quite a few shuddery moments--especially when Cole encounters a "stray," or a heme not from the Colony. The reader shivers, thinking on one level, "Oh, this is just a story," while on the other level. . . "But what if something like these creatures existed, unknown, in our world?" Very, very creepy. This book has quite a different feel from Twilight or Claudia Gray's Evernight. It hits on a deeper level and seems to ask deeper questions. I think the Meyers series might be edging toward some of the conclusions Jenkins makes in Night Road, conclusions about the beauty of being mortal and the sacrifice entailed in becoming other than mortal. Jenkins beat her to the punch. The only small quibble I have with Night Road is that I kept expecting it to reach a bigger climactic plot moment than it ever did. But this is a book about a journey, both a physical one and a metaphorical one as Cole is forced to confront the mistakes of his past. I liked it a lot, and I definitely recommend it.