The story starts in the present with a U.S. Army sponsered expedition to a remote part of the Amazon to somehow use the attributes of the vampire bat (Regeneration and longevity) in soildiers. Something happens where the whole of the expeditionary group is killed except for the lead scientist who makes it back to the States. Additionally, a little girl named Amy, who has a strange affinity for animals, gets left at a convent in Memphis by her mother. She's taken into a government facility in Colorado to be part of the same vampire bat experiment. Twelve death row inmates are inoculated with a viral substance that was developed by the scientist who escaped from the Amazon.
As expected, the experiment goes wrong and the real fun begins...
Smash forward to 100 years in the future and most of humanity has been wiped out by a vampire-like group called Virals. In a colony of survivor's we meet Peter Jaxon, a survivor who is a member of the Watch, the people who are the equivilent of soldiers. We follow him as he struggles with finding his place among the Watch, since his brother is considered the golden boy and Peter has an intense curiosity about the world before the Virals took over.
Mr. Cronin is a gifted storryteller and whether it's now or the post-apocalyptic world of the Viral ravaged future, all of it feels real and believeable. All the characters are engaging and ultimately very human. The Virals, who remind me of the vamps in "30 Days of Night", are frightening and savage and seem a totally implacable foe until Amy retuns to the story, looking about 13-14 years old, but is actually over 100 years old, and saves Peter during an attack on a scavanging run.
From that point, a lot of questions that Peter has start to get answered and he gets his heroes' quest and grows into the man he longs to be.
I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of sprawling epics like Stephen King's "The Stand" or "The Lord of the Rings". The book is being made into a movie slated to be released in 2013 and a sequel called "The Twelve" is coming out a little later out this year. Yes, I will be getting it and continuing on this journey.
The U.S. cover
The U.K. cover
The Mass Market Paperback cover