What appears to be an old man sits on a park bench just before dawn in London. He is an old thing. So old even he doesn’t know the exact amount of time. His partner, a creature like himself and just as old, if not older, sat on this very bench a week ago and destroyed herself. So, he sits and waits to die in the very same way with the rising of the sun.
And then something unexpected happens. A human teenager approaches him and demands his money. Ironically, he has none and tells the youth that, but his assailant is not persuaded and begins to make threats with a knife. As the sun creeps over the horizon, the creature swiftly rebuffs the attack but, as he bursts into flames, realizes the teen has stabbed him and is running away with his knife, now covered in the old one’s blood.A few hours later, the old one finds himself conscious and alive in a new body. Someone, not the teen who tried to rob and kill him, has cut themselves with the knife covered in his blood and, as a result, they have died and the old one is re-born. And then it happens again, and then again. As his consciousness splits and takes hold in new, strange bodies and places, it becomes clear that he must, above all other considerations, find that knife.
Every so often, a book comes along that is almost something familiar, but is also, simultaneously, something completely unexpected. Such is the case with Lee Markam’s debut novel The Truants.
For the first few chapters, The Truants seems clearly rooted in the Horror genre. Markham clearly implies, without ever actually using the term, that the main character is a vampire. And those initial chapters are filled with horrific images and grisly violence. What is unexpected is that every horrific occurrence occasioned by the supernatural is met, if not surpassed, but something done by a very human person to another human, or in a few cases, animals. For The Truants is not simply a novel about the horror of monsters, but it is also very much a novel about the monstrous horrors that are almost institutionalized within Western culture. By setting The Truants in contemporary London, Markham illustrates, repeatedly, how poverty, drug use, gangs and, most topically, police violence have created a web every bit as binding and lethal as a bite from the undead. But Markham doesn’t stop there, with the story taking several unexpected twists and turns to a more philosophic exploration of how one can create, and sustain, a meaningful existence and how even the smallest of choices and actions can have devastating effects on us and those around us. He also illustrates how, generally, we ourselves build the cages that hold us back while also showing that we are the only ones that can free ourselves from those same cages.
Clearly, there’s a lot more to this little vampire novel than one would expect, and that is what makes it so challenging. If you’re looking for a Horror novel, The Truants starts VERY strong, with Markham putting an interesting spin on the vampire mythos and providing a relentless string of horrific occurrences. As the story progresses, however, it ultimately turns into a markedly different type of book. Those looking for a Horror novel may be disappointed by how the plot develops. Those who may enjoy the journey this novel offers over all may be put off by the title, the cover and the opening chapters. But, even with these challenges, one has to hope that The Truants will find its readers. It is a fascinating, challenging and enjoyable read, the type of which there simply aren’t enough.