Let's start with this book's awesome premise. Out of nowhere, a worldwide event (later dubbed Herod's Syndrome) causes all pre-pubescent children to drop dead. Then, after three days, it resurrects them, but in order to stay resurrected, they need to ingest a certain amount of human blood. The novel follows three families as they navigate this new reality.
Craig DiLouie takes this crazy concept and really milks it for all it's worth, delivering a creative twist on vampire fiction and on end-of-the-world fiction as well. He delivers horror in the way that Stephen King does with Pet Sematary, feeding on the terrifying concept of a parent dealing with the sudden death of their child, and the lengths that a dedicated parent would go to in order to keep their children alive.
One of the clever things is that it's not even the bloodthirsty children that are scary in this. In fact, when their hunger is satisfied, they're essentially their old child-like selves again. What really brings the horror is watching what the parents have to go through after the children die (like the horrible notion of having to deliver your rotting 8-year-old for burial in a mass grave) and then see what happens when the children come back and the parents realize that it's possible to keep their children alive by feeding them human blood, that one simple thing that can make them whole again. That's what's truly terrifying: watching how this discovery slowly breaks down society, and realize that it's actually really believable. That grocery store sequence? Damn. That's one of the most unnerving and horrifyingly effective sequences I've read in a very long time! And there are other similar scenes in this one that really gave me the willies!
Another clever thing about this concept is that DiLouie can have the parents do anything in this book and it would be believable. Because what parent wouldn't do anything to be with their kids longer?
As I mentioned, DiLouie milks his ideas for all their worth and delivers a truly unsettling story with interesting characters, cinematic prose and some surprising twists of the fucked-up variety. While writing this, I thought to myself: am I really giving this book a full A? But I really have no complaints with this bad-boy, so yep, there you go! It's an engaging mix of science-fiction and horror and is everything that end-of-the-world/apocalyptic fiction should be.
"There were so many times I was too tired to play with him. Too distracted by work to really listen. Too irritated by his tantrums and sickliness to be present. Understand? But not now. I look back sometimes, and I can't believe what used to matter to me. The things I used as excuses to get away. Not now. This is a different time. A purer time. I've never known such clarity. The only thing that matters is blood."