New York has a reputation for being strange and bizarre, so when guitarist Moz is heading home through a sweltering summer’s day after spending the afternoon jamming with best friend Zahler, it doesn’t seem that weird that to turn a corner and find a woman throwing all her possessions out an apartment window. A crowd’s gathered, and as some people try to scavenge intact items, others are chanting at her to jump. Moz is transfixed until he sees the next item – a mid-seventies Fender Stratocaster. Though he calls for her to stop, the woman releases the invaluable instrument, and Moz moves below it in a vain effort to rescue it from certain destruction. He’s distracted from his task by a young woman, who throws him a blanket from the pile of debris, and together they manage to safely catch the electric guitar.
The girl is Pearl, and she’s a would-be musician, too. Though she keeps it a secret from Moz and Zahler, she’s a piano student at Julliard, and weird things are going on there. But more important is the fledgling band they’re assembling. With Pearl’s friend Minerva, a brilliant singer but totally odd chick, who’s been locked in her bedroom by her family, and drumming street-performer Alana Ray, they have a unique sound that works.
Yet, despite their focus on a musical career, the band can’t help get involved in what’s happening to the city. Rubbish mounts up, rats are everywhere, Moz is drawn to the subway, and people are acting increasingly strangely.
The Last Days follows from Westerfeld’s brilliant vampire novel Peeps. It’s a sequel with a difference, as it picks up with a different cast of characters from the original, and with a wholly different writing style – Peeps was first person, alternating between narrative and information on different types of parasites. In this universe Peep is shorthand for parasite-positive – people who have a virus that causes them to behave in unusual and antisocial ways. I thought Peeps had the best explanation for classic vampire behaviour (like aversion to crucifixes) that I’d come across.
The Last Days, by contrast, is told in alternating chapters from the points of views of each of the five main characters. Through their differing perspectives we are able to build a picture of what’s happening before they do.
Having read Peeps certainly made some aspects of The Last Days a little clearer, but I was half way through the book before I realised that it was, in fact, a sequel – so reading it’s clearly not a prerequisite. That said, everything I’ve read of his thus far is fantastic, so don’t miss the first in the sequence. Or anything else of his! - Alex