Thursday, July 19, 2012
Peeps and the Last Days by Scott Westerfeld
Peeps, which I actually listened to on audio book, is told from perspective of Cal Thompson, a guy who should be busy with freshman biology but instead he's chasing down lunatic ex-girlfriends. Ever since Cal was seduced and infected by a parasite-positive, he's been a carrier for the disease, passing it on to the girls he's kissed. Cal himself is lucky enough to only have minimal side effects, like superb nigh vision, inhuman strength, and a fondness for raw meat. Peeps, like Cal's ex-girlfriends, undergo a much more extreme change, one that leaves them with an awful similarity to vampires.
I really enjoyed Cal's voice in Peeps and not just because I was listening to it on audio! He's a charming narrator, Southern and well-meaning, and I really wanted things to work out for him. Like all of Westerfeld's books, I found the storyline really engaging and unique but there was an element I found unnecessary and distracting. The chapters of Peeps alternate between Cal's story, and short ones that discuss various real parasites. At first the non-fiction bits were interesting, but there were so many of them that I felt it dragged down the story. Maybe one every few chapters would have sufficed, but when there was one after every chapter it really took me out of the story I was starting to become involved in, and ended up feeling abrupt.
Despite my complaint about the fact-heavy chapters, Peeps was a novel I enjoyed, and definitely the most intelligent vampire novel I've read. Not only is Westerfeld's writing smart, but his characters are too, which is always refreshing to read. That said, they aren't perfect, and that's part of what makes them, especially Cal, so charming.
As I said, the companion book, or sequel, The Last Days, features an entirely new cast of characters, though a few familiar faces show up near the end. As much as Peeps is a science novel, The Last Days is a music novel, as all five of its narrators are in a band together. And yes, I said five narrators. Generally, I dislike novels with more on than two narrators, but I admit that Westerfeld makes each character distinctive, and balances their stories well enough, that I didn't mind the fact that there were five points-of-view in The Last Days.
Unfortunately, even though I appreciated that the story wasn't interrupted with non-fiction chapters, I didn't find The Last Days quite as engaging as Peeps. Having learned the intriguing background of the disease in the first novel, I was mainly left to focus on the story itself. In comparison to the massive stakes of Peeps, all the characters in The Last Days really want, for most of the novel, is to get famous. And it wasn't really a goal I could find a lot of enthusiasm for.
The Last Days does offer answers to some lingering questions from Peeps but even those don't come till near the end. The rest of the story was based around characters I didn't really care for, the drummer Alana Ray was kinda interesting and definitely unique, the keyboardist Pearl had some moments, but one character is infected and pretty crazy and the other two feels mostly like throw-aways. Perhaps I can blame my lack of connection with them on the fact that I spent so little time in each of their heads, but none of them kept my interest the way that Cal did in Peeps.
This mini series– does two books count?– has a unique and interesting premise, one that I definitely enjoyed being introduced to in Peeps. Unfortunately, while The Last Days does fill in some blanks in Peeps the storyline and the characters weren't nearly as engaging to me. Unless a reader is desperate for answers, I'd recommend just reading Peeps as a standalone, because I think it works really well that way. Overall, I'd have to say that while Peeps is my least favourite of the three Westerfeld series I've read, falling behind Uglies and Midnighters, it still has that intelligent and creative Westerfeld flare that I love. Though I won't be rereading this one, I'll definitely be trying another series by Westerfeld in the future.