I have to admit to feeling ambivalent about vampires.
The various iterations of Bram Stoker's Dracula (the book and the movies) entranced me as a teenager and a young adult. But then it seemed like the world was flooded with vampires: sexy vampires, sparkly vampires, psycho vampires, vampires bent on world domination. According to Wikipedia, by the year 2005, Dracula had been the subject of more movies than any other single fictional character. So you might say I was getting tired of vampires. Same old - same old.
Than along came this little book.
I'll be honest, when I was approached about reviewing it, my first thought was, "Not another vampire novel that's meant to appeal to teenagers. Can't anyone come up with any new ideas?" Then I read the book. Guess what? It's full of new ideas.
For one thing, it focuses more on the human side of the main character, Zack Thomson. That's something we rarely see: a vampire struggling with who he is and what impact his nature will have on those he loves, in a world of people who aren't at all like him. And thank heavens, romance isn't a central focus. I was getting a little tired of that particular plot device.
Instead, what Night Runner offers is a tale that I found to be both touching and believable. Here is not a jaded, centuries-old fantasy creature seeking immortal power, but a teenage boy with an unusual medical condition, doing his awkward best to navigate the world of youthful friendships and adult manipulation and betrayal. His struggles feel real.
Now, bear in mind, this is young adult fiction, so it doesn't have the blistering speed and horror of adult thrillers. Still, it moves along at a reasonable pace, occasionally yanking the reader forward into unexpected twists and turns and then allowing some breathing room for both Zack and the reader to mull over what just happened. Over the years, I've gotten pretty good at predicting where the plot of any given vampire novel will lead, and I was still surprised several times. Zack has to make some decisions that most vampires in fiction don't think twice about, but that are very difficult for him. It's his humanity that makes these turning points so hard, and it's also his humanity that makes me want to keep watching him, keep hoping that he'll win out over the dark forces that are working against him.
This book is the first of a three-part series. If the online summaries are any indication, the plot line becomes a tad more epic in the second and third volumes. But I'm betting that Zack's character remains just as believable, just as real as he is in the first book. Because that's what makes for a great story: A character who's easy to care about, a character you'd like to see win against the bad guys.