What does the word “epic” really mean?
This is a new twist on the old vampire genre. Genre has rules: vampires are essentially immortal; they can be killed only in specific ways; they are physically much more superior than normal human beings; blood, preferably humans but all mammals will work, is their only food; they don’t reproduce, bitten, but not died, human become them; etc. One thing about this genre is the origin of vampires — it is totally up to the imagination of the author. Vampire fans, I am one, judge books partially on the creative interpretation of those rules. Yes, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is still the king of all vampire books.
I have not read good vampire books for years (sorry, Twilight fans) and this one by Justin Cronin is quite up there. It is epic in the sense of spanning over a thousand years and destroying the world as we know it — Noah’s Ark style. So it is an apocalypse/vampire combo genre (the apocalypse genre rules are much simpler).
Even for fantasies, the plot also must be logical within the genre rules. If a super-dominant predatory species emerges, what happens to others? We homo sapiens knew this story well, since we wrote the first book: all other species go extinct unless we protect them. But what if this super predatory species is not smart enough to protect its own preys? Then that species will work itself into extinction by exhausting its own food sources. Nature will then select the milder strand of this predatory species that learned to protect its own food sources.
In this book, the vampires are the super species. Over several hundreds of years, nature should yield two outcomes: some vampires should be “farming” people, and, being immortal, they will also kill off other vampires to protect their food sources. The world will come to an equilibrium of a vampire/human/mammal ratio.
That be the world our human protagonists need to save us from. Wouldn’t that be epic?