It's been awhile since the last entry in the Vampire Apocalypse series. This has been frustrating to fans because it was a cliffhanger ending, keeping us waiting when a new type of vampire is about to menace the world and a nuclear winter is potentially in the offing.
Thankfully, the new entry picks up right where the previous volume ended. A nuclear meltdown has occurred at a nearby nuclear power plant and the human resistance must move, and move quickly, before they're all killed by fallout. As the title implies, this his going to be a horrifying trek with numerous casualties.
Worse, the villainous Von Kruger has become something new due to the mixture of nuclear radiation and magic he was caught in the center of an explosion of. Given sunlight is a form of radiation, I found the change to make a sort of symbolic sense. Throughout the book, we see how Kruger's new status as a daywalker affects both his mind and sanity as well as attracts a host of new followers.
Part of the appeal of the Vampire Apocalypse universe is its myriad caste of characters, all of whom are unique and have interesting roles to play. This volume is no exception and Derek Gunn continues to introduce new ones while maintaining the old ones' growth. The high body counts in his stories keep things exciting and it seems no one is safe but the John Connor-esque resistance leader Harris.
Readers interested in diversity may note Derek Gunn keeps a fairly good mix of ethnicities, sexual preferences, and open gender-roles amongst the resistance's fighters. There's even an important disabled character (who rocks), which is the kind of inclusivity I enjoy in my post-apocalyptic fiction. Too many stories assume the only survivors will be white heterosexual physically-able men and the similarly pale able heterosexual women who love them. Vampire Apocalypse is a great antidote to that.
Derek Gunn tones down some of the elements which irritated me in previous volumes, particularly the fact Harris was always right. Here, it's obvious he's making the right decision but it's something which is neither well-planned or executed. He also makes a mistake which is very human but so obviously wrong that it hurt my enjoyment of the series overall (detailed below).
I'm of mixed feelings regarding the continued focus on the Civil War between the vampires and thralls. For new readers, the vampires of the VampApoc-verse are capable of creating superhumans from the regular populace through methods unknown. These are the thralls. Their name should tell you how the vampires see them. The thralls, under the villainous Carter, have since rebelled in his territory and seized power for themselves. This would be wonderful if not for the fact the thralls are all sociopaths every bit as bad, if not worse, than the vampires themselves.
The conflict between the vampires and the Thralls is entertaining and well-written with the two sides being utterly evil. Watching them destroy one another also let's us know the situation is getting better, even if our heroes are too preoccupied to take much advantage of it. Which brings me to my one major problem with Vampire Apocalypse: Trail of Tears. Something which isn't enough to turn me off the series as is, but deserves to be commented on.
Basically, it seems that a lot of the main characters are ignoring numbers issues for their conflict. While this may be deliberate in the case of the Thrall vs. Vampire War, it's a bit of an annoyance for our hero Harris to show it.
The thralls are rebelling against the vampires and attempting to seize power but they have no means of replenishing their numbers when they lose someone since they're created by vampires. I'd like to see at least one thrall recognize this or, perhaps, actually maintain some basic human feeling. Seeing some thralls defect to the human resistance would bring an interesting dynamic to the story.
Von Kruger is destroying his own vampire hordes by creating his daywalkers via the "hit and miss" philosophy of bathing them in nuclear fire--which is fine, since they comment on how stupid this is. He's an insane monster so it makes sense for him to not care he's bringing down the world in a nihilistic blaze of self-destruction.
However, the big problem is the elephant in the room of human demographics. This volume, Harris decides to stop warning the vampires of the fact their serum is killing humans in the pens. Bluntly, given his own group is only a few thousand at most, this is the worst act of genocide in the series.
If the vampires don't notice and stop the massive numbers of deaths, then humanity is going to go extinct irregardless of whether Harris' group survives or not. It's an utterly irresponsible act which removes all sympathy I have for the lead character.
Despite this, I enjoyed Vampire Apocalypse: Trail of Tears. It is a dark series which touches on issues like survival and genuinely hard choices like "do you abandon the dying to guarantee the survival of the living?" The fact the resistance is more concerned with surviving than killing their foes is a telltale sign this series is likely to get bleaker before it gets better. Which, honestly, I'm all for. Though, I hope the resistance kills Carter or Von Kruger soon. Those guys are ****s.