- The Truants.
- Lee Markham.
- 251 pages.
- Horror / Vampire / Fiction.
- My Rating: Hell No Book Review.
Contorting the conventional vampire narrative into a startling tale of immortality, blood lust, and rage contaminating London’s inner-city youth like a virus, The Truants tells the story of the last of the old-ones—creatures afflicted with a condition not unlike vampirism: ancient, bloodthirsty, and unable to withstand sunlight.
The last old-one has decided to end his life, but before he can act he is held up at knifepoint. His assailant disappears, the knife in his pocket, the blood of the old-one seared into its sharpened edge. The knife trades hands, drawing blood again, and the old-one is resurrected through his victims’ consciousness and divided, spreading through the infected. With his horde of infected youth, the old-one must reclaim the knife to regain control of his soul. But someone is out to stop him…
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
!!!Spoiler warning!!! Whilst I try my best to always stay away from spoilers, this review will contain a couple. I’m a fantasy fan, particularly the grimdark sub-genre and as such, I like dark, visceral, violent, grim and bloody tales. I have become accustomed to them and nothing much really bothers me while I’m reading, gaming or watching TV/film. Saying that however, there are a couple of instances in The Truants, near to the very start that unsettled me and I feel need mention.
Firstly, I abhor cruelty to animals in real-life and it’s one of the things that I don’t like reading about or watching, in The Truants there’s a part with a pet dog, the owner, a drug-addled hoody wearing crackhead chav by the name of Ste kicks the dog twice during the course of a couple of pages, it’s only a very small thing and the dog is a vicious and nasty canine but I immediately thought ‘piece of scum/bastard/filth‘ it served no purpose other than to show the lowlife as the thug he is and it was unnecessary violence. You might be questioning how something so trivial can be an issue for me when I read books with battles full of visceral combat and decapitation. Simple, fantasy is not real, cruelty to animals is and I’m a believer that anyone who hits a pet deserves it back tenfold. I guess we all have things that we disagree with and don’t like to read about when reading and this is one of my only triggers.
Secondly, and this was the major issue for me, that same drug-addled chav crackhead has a girlfriend and child (Donna and Peter). Living in a flat that resembles a den of depravity, the child is neglected and abused, the poor two-year-old is left dirty, soiled and alone in his squalid room whilst the adults get high and watch porn, I guess my thought that these sort of people watch Jeremy Kyle was wrong! Sadly, just like the abuse of pets it’s something that occurs regularly in reality, especially in the type of settings depicted in The Truants, a lower class, tenement style council estate full of scum (no offence is meant as the residents in The Truants regardless of their station and whether they live in multi-million pound mansions or a council flat are not decent and upstanding citizens, they are the dregs of society and the social underclass).
From the blurb you will have read the mention of the knife that the old-one wants to get back, the hoody (yes, another drug addled smackhead) who stabbed him goes to the flat with the child to get a hit of drugs from Ste, his supplier. Unbeknownst to the adults, the child ‘Peter‘ creeps out of his room and cuts himself on the knife which has fallen out of the chavs pocket. Peter starts to cry, making a noise and disrupting the adults, especially Ste who’s cooking up the other chavs hit of drugs. Due to the interruption and just because he’s a bastard Ste hits him in the stomach, Markham describes how Peter toddles back to the room, realising that something inside is damaged, broken and that he can’t breathe, then laying down to die. Ste murders his two-year-old, let’s not bandy words and use terms like ‘accidental death‘ or shit like that a grown man punching a two-year-old, the outcome is sadly inevitable. It’s an integral part of the story as the knife cut and subsequent death allows the old one to enter and take over Peter but damn, it was uncomfortable reading!
I’m fully aware that a story about vampires is going to be dark and that there will be unsettling moments and that is my point about me being a grimdark fan, I read gritty and grim books ,often containing copious amounts of grisly bloodshed and death on an epic scale and yet these two occurrences in The Truants, especially the death of Peter made me feel really uncomfortable. If they make someone like myself uneasy who is accustomed to violence and harsh events in books, then those of a more delicate disposition would find it even harder and upsetting to read.
I’ve found The Truants a hard book to review and that’s why this resembles more a collection of my thoughts than a coherent well-structured review. I have to admit that I considered not finishing the actual book after Peter’s death, it unsettled me, it was uncomfortable to read and I stepped away from the book for a few days while I considered whether or not to continue reading, putting the book down and asking myself do I want to read any more? The book itself is only around 250 pages and I’d read the first 50 pages which is one of the main reasons why I continued and finished the book, due to its short length and I decided that I wanted to see where the story went, I also doubted that there would be any further scenes that were quite so chilling than the murder of Peter and I was right. If The Truants had been 400 or more pages in length then I can’t say that I’d have completed the book, it would have been too long and too many pages to get through after the heinous events at the start. As it was, with The Truants I will steal an apt phrase from Magnus Magnusson and say it was a case of ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish‘.
When you get to the end of a book, if the book has been great throughout and you find the ending to be a disappointment, it somewhat sours the whole experience of the book as it’s what you are left with, the poor last impression. Likewise, if a book isn’t particularly great but the ending really pulls it all together, it improves your thoughts overall on the book as the last thing you read about, you enjoyed. With The Truants the ending for me was irrelevant, it could have been the best book ever written but I couldn’t shake what had happened back in a few paragraphs in the initial 50 pages. When I got to the ending and had finished it was still the beginning that was playing on my mind.
I’m being negative with this review, I know that, but I’m just being honest and I’m also trying my best to not be needlessly negative. I always try to look for the positive aspects in a book I didn’t like, to counterbalance the negative and there is some good ideas in The Truants. The very beginning is an interesting concept that is written well. The old-one sat on the bench waiting to die, Markham does a good job of depicting the thought that it’s a simple thing to kill yourself and die but it’s far harder to work up the courage to actually do it. It’s after the old one has been stabbed that for me things went down hill, those two events I’ve mentioned soured my reading experience and are my lasting impression of the book, harsh but unfortunately, it’s true.
I kept the scar though. Scars are sacred.
Markham is a decent writer, I liked his style, the pacing in The Truants is fast and the story flows well. As you follow the knife’s journey, trading hands from one person to another you find that Markham is good at describing the lower class society of the UK and evoking a bleak setting and tale. The old-one refers to humans as ‘rats‘ and with Markham’s writing you can’t help but think that it’s a valid view of the present-day state of humanity and the gutter it dwells in.
The Truants is also deep, it’s not just a vampire novel but it is a very interesting take on the whole vampire mythology, a Twilight sparkly vampire the ancient old-one is not and I enjoyed the dialogue and outcome between the old-one and the original vampire late on. At times the whole vampire part is very understated, playing a secondary role to the books more harrowing aspects and about halfway through you realise that the book isn’t a vampire book, it’s a dissection of the poverty, neglect, teen gangs and knife crime culture that are rampant and rife within the UK.
Burn the world to the ground? Why ask ‘why’, when the real question is ‘why not’?
The characters featured are not a likeable bunch, though The Truants isn’t the type of book with good guys to root for and villains to hate where you should at least find some characters to like. On the whole, I couldn’t empathise or even sympathise with any of them, if the book was meant to make me question whether it is societies fault for how they turn out, does that make me bad that I didn’t feel for them? The only character I felt anything slight for was Danny, an unsuspecting young victim of knife crime but even he wanted revenge on the youth who stabbed him (he was stabbed with the knife that contained the old one’s essence, so was turned into a vampire). We are told in real-life by everyone in every type of media that revenge is wrong, it’s not a good thing to want and it isn’t innocent. If Markham really wanted us to care for Danny and see the good in him he should have considered changing that Danny wanted revenge and had him forgive the youth. Maybe I’m reading too much into it and he only wanted revenge due to the influence of the old-one, but I think it would have worked better for the story and the character if Danny had simply forgiven the youth. Markham could have shown the old-one that not every human is a worthless rat and both the old-one and us readers that there is forgiveness in the world, a small bit of light in the dark. Something along the lines of ‘every day for the rest of your life, you will have to live with what you did to me, you took my life, make yours count, I forgive you‘ I just think it would have shown the goodness and innocence in Danny better than him wanting revenge, just letting it go, which he does in the end. I just think a conversation between Danny and the youth who stabbed him would have had that emotional pull, that for me, the book had been sorely lacking throughout. Though the ending does bring us a little hope to the forefront after the darkness of the near entirety of the book.
With Pokemon you’ve ‘gotta catch’ em all‘ and with books you ‘can’t like them all‘ and this is one I couldn’t like due to the events at the beginning. They stayed with me throughout the reading and even as I write this Peter’s death still makes me uneasy with part of me thinking I should have stopped reading after that, going on to something that I’d have enjoyed more instead of spending a week struggling through the following 200 pages. But, a small part is also glad that I endured to the end of The Truants as it’s an informative and unique if somewhat disturbing look into the degradation and underbelly of modern society.
Remember, this review is only my own opinion, The Truants currently has 12 reviews on Amazon UK that are all 4 or 5 stars and what one person dislikes, another might enjoy. I appear to be the odd one out, so maybe it’s just me! If anyone else does read/has read the book then I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts!
Markham, I do think that you are a talented author who knows how to tell a story and I will wish you well with future books, unfortunately, The Truants just wasn’t for me.
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