First published back in June of 2013, US author Monica J. O’Rourke’s novel ‘What Happens In The Darkness’ tapped into both the popular post-apocalyptic and vampire fiction markets.

DLS Synopsis:
In the space of just a handful of hours, Manhattan, along with the vast majority of America, was reduced to little more than a smoking pile of rubble.  The bombs that were dropped across the land came from coalition of countries across the breadth of the world.  Practically every nation on the planet had united against America, forming an alliance called The Global Dominion.

For twelve-year-old Janelle, when the bombs had dropped her whole family had died.  She clambered from the remains of the building that had once been their home, and staggered out alone into the chaos of the streets outside.

Ever since that terrifying night, Janelle had been alone, running from building to building and in the shadows of the war-torn remains of the city.  She hid away from the soldiers, watching as they forced people away at gunpoint.  Some dragged the prisoners off to camps, or loaded them onto the backs of tracks, or simply shot them dead in the gutters.  There was no escaping it.  This was war.  And it was on their homeland.

Meanwhile, Jeff was facing a dilemma.  After America was reduced to rubble, he was left to decide the fate of the captives in his charge.  He’d inherited the duty from his father after he passed away.  And it was a position which he had honoured for over twenty years now.

However, his captives weren’t what you would call normal.  Locked away in the hidden cave that had been their prison for decades, the seven undead vampires were now facing their final death if they weren’t able to feed soon.  Jeff knew he had to do something.  His charge were his responsibility.  And so, with America now little more than a wasteland, with a war erupting across its streets, Jeff does the only he can think of to do.  He lets the vampires out.  But in doing so, he makes a pact with their leader – Martin.  If they are to be free, then they must help fight the war against the Global Dominion.  Martin agrees.

But in letting the vampire family go, Jeff knows he is putting the lives of what remains of the entire American race in the trust of their simple agreement.  The vampires’ loyalties may rest with Martin, but in a time of war, those loyalties will be stretched to the limit.  And for some, such as Patrick, even though Martin was the one who sired him, it was hard to remain loyal to a leader who he knew had become too close to humans.

After all, humankind was just meat to them…

DLS Review:
Monica J. O’Rourke kick starts her novel with an opening couple of chapters flinging the reader into the chaotic madness of an expertly-executed post-apocalyptic setting. The once great city of Manhattan is now reduced to rubble and the streets are full of desperate, traumatised and increasingly dangerous people.  Here the storyline focusses on the principal character of twelve-year-old Janelle as she hides away in the shadows; clinging on to survival like everyone else.  These early chapters are probably some of the novel’s best – encapsulating the utter fear that has very understandingly gripped Janelle to the core.

Whilst this really quite compelling post-apocalyptic-style storyline is unfolding, O’Rourke introduces a second parallel-running thread, involving our second main character – Jeff.  Unlike the gritty and hardboiled ‘Janelle’ storyline, this second thread feels far more ‘Young Adult’ in nature.  In fact, although the ‘vampire’ element quickly introduces plenty of bloodshed and violence into the mix, it’s still the twelve-year-old girl alone in the dangerous remains of Manhattan’s streets that comes anywhere close to chilling you.

Sadly, as the tale progress, you begin to see less and less of Janelle and more and more of the vampires.  And instead of delivering a chilling and powerful horror story, putting vampires into a post-apocalyptic backdrop, ala ‘I Am Legend’ (1954), O’Rourke instead goes for a more ‘comic book’ approach to the overall delivery of the horror.  And to be honest, even Shaun Hutson’s ‘Erebus’ (1984) packed more of a punch than ‘What Happens In The Darkness’ does.

What we have instead is quite an unconvincing blend between Stephen Norrington’s ‘Blade’ (1998), David Wellington’s ‘13 Bullets’ (2007), and Benjamin Percy’s ‘Red Moon’ (2013).  Yes there’s plenty of gritty violence, yes the story is pretty much awash with bloodshed and visceral gore, but it nevertheless still maintains a flat and unattacking delivery that just feels too damn weak to penetrate your skin.

That’s not to say there are not some interesting elements thrown in along the way.  The human-vs-human-vs-vampire-vs-vampire madness behind it all is quite entertaining.  And the ingrained loyalty that vampires feel to those that sired them is definitely an intriguing aspect that should perhaps have been explored a tad further.  But it’s the overall ‘Marvel Comics’ style Global Dominion shenanigans that does the hard-hitting aspects of the novel such a massive disservice.  Combining these frustratingly American ‘us-vs-them’ antics with wafer-thin characterisation, and a far too badly defined direction to the tale, ultimately leaves the reader feeling unconnected and finally uninterested in where the story’s going.

I don’t want to be too harsh on the novel because, like I said, it has its moments.  Had O’Rourke kept with the gritty, grimy, heart-in-your-mouth intensity of the first few chapters, then I’d undoubtedly be singing a different tune.  And I’m the first to admit that I often find vampire novels camp and annoying if they’re not given a real solid ‘butcher the weak’ backbone.  Unfortunately O’Rourke’s novel doesn’t do this.  It has the elements, in fact it has an absolute abundance of bloodshed and gore, but the grab-you-by-the-balls horror that this gore needs for impact is sadly almost completely missing.

It’s a shame.  And I really mean that as I had such high hopes for the novel during the first few chapters.  Oh well…you can’t win ‘em all.

The novel runs for a total of 263 pages.

 © DLS Reviews

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