In Which Night Road Does Not Disappoint

There's nothing quite as disappointing to me as a bad book. The worst ones are the ones that could be good; maybe they have an excellent plot or terrific characters but something is off. Either the writing isn't up to snuff and I cringe over the clunkiness of it all or the great characters never do anything or the terrific plot is about a bunch of characters thinner than the pages I'm reading. It's enough to make me scream, and I do. I just finished a novel by a hugely popular author, whose work I used to love, that was completely spoiled by this weird paranoid streak that suddenly showed up. Sadly I read three or four bad books in a row, all with great reviews, and was languishing, wondering if I would ever find anything I liked again.

My youngest son came through, supplying me with a book called Night Road which is a little dry, but was deeply satisfying. To use a slightly obnoxious metaphor obviously inspired by the novel's title, reading Night Road after the other book was like going from pothole city in sprung car with terrible seats to the most comfortable ride in the world, on roads as smooth as glass. It was a powerful read and made me laugh and cry, but there were no weird stumbling blocks that yanked me out of the story.

I lie. There was one thing. The protagonists in Night Road are hemevores, meaning they live on blood (they also have an aversion to being called vampires), and call everyone else omnivores. If you read the book straight through by the time you get to the end you might not want to hear any words ending with "vore" ever again. But this is a mild problem and overall I was quite pleased.

Night Road tells the story of Cole, a young man who was changed when he was eighteen, who now subsists on blood, can't bear the sunlight and can recover physically from just about any injury. Unfortunately, we soon learn that anyone of his species who is exposed to sunlight does not recover mentally. As these guys can survive almost anything they literally have a fate worse than death waiting for them. If they aren't super careful they could end up with trapped forever in a body that refuses to die, with no mental ability. How's that for a horrifying and chilling idea?

As a result of these consequences constantly hanging over his head, Cole lives the most careful, isolated life imaginable. He spends most of his time traveling, following a rigid set of rules. He doesn't just need to avoid injury and sunlight; he also has to keep his desires under control. If a heme doesn't get enough to eat they get thirsty, with a capital T, and are overwhelmed by the urge to get blood via any means necessary. A Thirsting heme loses awareness of who much blood to take, who take it from, the health of their victims and their environment. They can do terrible things in a matter of moments; leaving wreckage that can haunt them ever after.

As the story begins Cole is returning to a heme enclave in New York, a place designed to keep his fellow hemes safe but that make him uncomfortable. He is a bit like a feral cat that doesn't want to come in and eat, perhaps afraid that he will change for the worse and no longer be able to take care of himself. So when he is asked to help teach a new heme the rules of survival he is not at all excited.

Gordo, the new heme, is a college student that was turned after a vicious attack on one of Cole's friends (called Sandor). Gordo's own initiation into the heme world was traumatic and he is having a hard time adjusting to his circumstances. Interested mostly in pretty girls and drinking beer the new rules make him cranky, defensive and depressed. None of this endears him to Cole, who knows that a terrible fate waits for Gordo if he can't get it together. They cannot risk letting Gordo run around, thirst out of control, turning random people into hemes, or letting omnis find out he's a heme.

While Cole tries to teach Gordo all of the minutia of a safe life he is also struggling against his own memories and emotions, which he has safely stuffed away until now. For someone who seems to be focused and stoic, he has a going on inside.

At times deeply distressing and sad, at other hilarious and touching, Night Road is a fabulous read.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Just Not Sure, who writes in to say, "Not sure about the lemonade drinks at Taco Bell. They test weird but I keep drinking them." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.