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‘A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising’ definitely doesn’t suck

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There’s truth in the old adage that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. However, I would argue that in some cases, you CAN judge a book by its title.

For instance, take Raymond A. Villareal’s new novel “A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” (Mulholland, $27). That is one judgeable title – evocative and provocative at the same time, offering a tantalizing and crystal-clear description of what you’re about to experience.

This book is exactly what its title purports it to be – a complex and engaging sort of future history that follows the gradual appearance and assimilation of vampires into modern society. It follows a disparate cast of characters from both sides of the divide, offering first-person accounts from key players while also interspersing interview transcripts and news articles and other secondary and tertiary materials throughout.

What ultimately emerges is a thoughtful and finely-crafted work that reads as particularly insightful pop history – the title’s allusion to Howard Zinn’s seminal book isn’t an accident. It’s got a lot of Max Brooks’ “World War Z” in its DNA as well (though, it should be noted, not in a derivative way). It bears its influences proudly, but is very much its own beast.

In near-future America, something sinister has happened out in the New Mexico desert near the border with Mexico. A woman named Liza Sole was found dead and brought to the morgue in Nogales for autopsy. And then, hours later, something that was both Liza Sole and far more than Liza Sole got up and left, vanishing into the darkness.

This was the beginning.

Liza Sole – and those who came after – were infected with what would come to be known as the NOBI (Nogales organic blood illness) virus. NOBI was a 50/50 proposition; infection meant either death or becoming a vampire (referred to as “Gloamings”).

The process – euphemistically known as being re-created – gave the recipient all the traits associated with vampirism. Increased physical strength and personal magnetism, an aversion to sunlight … and the need to consume human blood to survive.

As the Gloamings steadily integrated themselves into society, placing their number into ever-higher echelons of power, they began gradually gaining mainstream acceptance. They were glamorized and lionized, admired and adored. They pursued their goals in manners both legally straightforward and ethically murky. And more and more powerful people submitted to being re-created.

But no one really knew what the Gloamings wanted. It was up to a select few to sift through it all to find the pieces of the puzzle that fit together, trying to discern just what the ultimate Gloaming goal was … and where exactly humanity fit into the picture.

“A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” tells the story of what happened through the words of those closest to the investigation. There’s Dr. Lauren Scott, the CDC virologist who happened to be first on the ground in Nogales following the incident and became the country’s preeminent researcher into the NOBI virus. FBI Agent Hugo Zumthor, who headed up the Bureau’s nascent Gloaming Crimes Unit in an effort to deal with the unique nature of potential criminal activity by Gloamings. Lawyers and political operatives offer differing perspectives on Washington D.C.’s reaction to the Gloaming impact on the political realm; priests and scholars offer the religious realm’s take on the situation. The media gets its chance to add some input as well.

The book is put together like a piece of smart-yet-accessible nonfiction, capturing perfectly that piecemeal approach of meticulous research that goes into blending disparate elements. The first-person accounts are most compelling – they’re the ones with the most leeway to advance the narrative while also giving Villareal room to stretch – but they benefit greatly from the sprinkling of additional material. The interview transcripts are great, but it’s the excerpts from magazines, newspapers and the like that really fill the gaps and contextualize everything. It’s all tied together beautifully.

(Villareal – an attorney in real life – gets a little wonky in a couple places, going heavy on the lawyer-talk in a way that is jargon-y and dense and surprisingly interesting. It’s a relatively small thing, but the small details are what make this book work so well.)

But while the method of storytelling is certainly important, it doesn’t mean anything without a quality story to be told. Villareal has created something that feels grounded and genuine; even his vampires (sorry, Gloamings – in the book, the v-word is offensive) carry an air of plausibility. Genre-forward fare like this doesn’t always feel solid, but this is book is an exceptional example of striking the balance between style and substance.

“A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” is undeniably aptly titled. It’s smart and smartly-constructed, an absolute blast to read. It is, to put it bluntly, entertaining as hell. All in all – and I apologize for this – this book does not suck.

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