Note: review re-published here due to GeekPlanetOnline ceasing operations at the end of December 2017. Review by Graeme Flory, originally published on GeekPlanetOnline,
What is more scary to you, fiction or reality? Your answer may be why you read horror fiction; a genre that takes the mundane horrors of real life and dresses them up in such a way that while the terror is still present, you know that it can be beaten by someone brave enough to stand up to it. If the monotony of everyday life keeps you awake at night for example, zombie horror will show you that a willingness to take your life in your own hands will pay off more often than not. Sometimes, of course, the darkness at the heart of horror fiction will win but at least it’s happening to smeone in the pages of a book and not you.
Every now and then though, a novel will come along where the supernatural protagonist takes a back seat to the everyday horrors that we are so used to, we don’t even blink as we pass them by. A novel that pulls no punches at all in showing us a broken society that we are all at least partly responsible for. How the darkness in all of us feeds off, and in turn is fed on, by otherworldly horror. The Truants is that very novel.
The last vampire is set to end his existence at sunrise, on the very bench where his lover took her own life, but in a quirk of fate his spirit lives on in the knife that he was stabbed by prior to immolation. As the knife moves through the hands of children, the vampires consciousness awakes in them but all he wants is the finality of death. He must destroy the knife to regain control of his soul but someone is out to stop him.
Before going further, it’s important to note that anyone who has been in an abusive relationship, or has suffered neglect as a child, should approach The Truants with caution. These are themes that run through the book and Markham shows a level of respect for sufferers in that he doesn’t sugar-coat anything; razor-sharp prose lays bare what goes on behind closed doors. While Markham does offer the counterpoint of hope to these situations, the preceding passages are such that, if you’re sensitive to such things, you need to steel yourself for the worst before you open the book.
The Truants is a difficult read, then but if you are able to carry on (and if you can keep track of whom the vampire is currently talking through; sometimes this is difficult, and it makes the read very jarring) you will get a lot out of it. For horror fans, the premise itself should be all that’s needed to get you reading; the rhythmic structure of the prose, however, it what will carry you through large chunks of the book itself, and it does this so comfortably that entire chapters fly by before you become aware of the time. For such a short book, Markham does an amazing job of balancing key themes (abusive relationships and gender fluidity to name but two) whilst integrating them into a plot that ran relatively smoothly bar the occasional choppy change in perspective.
The Truants is a book that feeds evil off evil and somehow manages to end on a note of hope. Evil can be defeated but The Truants is no regular horror story and makes it clear, through its setting, that defeating evil is the responsibility of the reader. That’s the other reason why it proves such a challenging read: the reader can’t hide behind regular horror tropes when the truth is laid so clearly on the page.
‘Social Horror’ may not be a sub-genre but if Lee Markham carries on writing books like The Truants then it will be. With the aforementioned caveats taken into consideration, it can be heartily recommended to anyone who likes horror fiction with a little more meat on its bones.