Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Last Days (book) by Scott Westerfeld

Moz and Zahler have managed to create their own two-guitarist band, but they know a real band needs more than that. Moz gets to know Pearl after the two of them save a guitar a newly-crazy woman tosses out of her window - although it's a bit worrisome that crazy people like this are becoming more and more common, all Pearl, Moz, and Zahler are really concerned with is forming a really awesome band and becoming famous. Eventually, they recruit Alana Ray, a young homeless woman who is a fantastic drummer and must take pills in order to be able to function relatively normally in the world, and Minerva, a friend of Pearl's who can sing.

If you read Westerfeld's Peeps, you know from Minerva's behavior that she is a peep, a parasite positive. However, Minerva manages to somehow overcome her hatred of things she once loved, plus her desire to eat people, in order to be part of the band. Unfortunately, she's still got the peep horny-ness and she's still contagious. Although she notices Pearl's interest in Moz, she doesn't really care and goes after him anyway - the result is a band with two potentially dangerous peeps who could break down and eat their bandmates at any moment.

However unstable this band may seem, it's got some indefinable thing the world needs - there's something about their music that can call the killer worms living below ground. With Pearl, Minerva, Zahler, Moz, and Alana Ray there to call the worms, the "angels" (peeps and carriers who've controlled their blood-thirsty impulses and have trained to kill the worms) can swoop in and hack the worms to bits. In my post about Peeps I wrote that cats save the world. Well, in this book, music saves the world.

Although I've read several reviews where the reviewers say that this book is better than the first, I disagree. With its many main characters, each of whom have chapters written from their perspectives, this book felt less focused than the first. Also, as someone who prefers likable characters, I was a bit turned off by Minerva. By sticking with Minerva after she gets sick, Pearl damages some of her other friendships - this implies that her friendship with Minerva is very important to her. Unfortunately, either Minerva doesn't feel the same way, or her peep impulses have overridden her ability to act like a friend, because she doesn't even seem to feel a twinge of guilt about going after Moz when she knows Pearl kind of likes him.

The "here's how everything turned out for everyone" summation at the end felt pretty weak to me. Everyone gets famous, Cal (the main character of Peeps, back for a few appearances in this book) writes books about everyone, Minerva and Moz have an on-again off-again relationship, Zahler becomes a great bass player (a "fawesome" bass player), Alana Ray stays the same, and Pearl runs for mayor of New York again. It's all very happy, which, considering the state of the world, makes it seem like there are some huge plot holes. "Pre-crisis beer" is precious, and yet everything else is fine? Somehow Alana Ray is getting her medication, the band is managing to fly (or maybe sail?) to other countries to perform, etc. How is all this still happening?

The relationship stuff in this book also drove me crazy, although I can't say how it could've been done better without creating even more weaknesses and holes in the story. I just didn't particularly like how Pearl was forced to squash her hurt feelings over Moz and Minerva for the sake of the band - it made me hate Minerva even more, actually. Pearl continues to have to keep things happy and wonderful for Moz and Minerva over the years, helping the two of them mend things whenever their relationship temporarily sours. Early on in the book, there are indications that Zahler might like Pearl and that he's standing back because he can tell that Pearl likes Moz, but nothing ever comes of this. Since I felt Zahler was an underappreciated character, I kind of wish the two of them had ended up together - at least I would've felt a little less bad about Pearl.

Both of my favorite characters, Zahler and Alana Ray didn't really get as much attention as I would've liked. I liked Zahler because he was stable and had his head on his shoulders - since I realize that these traits don't often make for interesting characters, I can forgive Westerfeld for not giving him a little more attention. However, what little we find out about Alana Ray's life and her abilities (she has hallucinations that, in some cases, may not really be hallucinations) is very interesting - Westerfeld could've done a lot more with her, and he didn't.

Overall, I thought this book was a nice read, but I don't agree with those reviewers who say that it's better than Peeps.

At the end of the book, there is a list of all the chapter titles, which are also all band names. Westerfeld provides some brief info for each - where they're from, when they were formed, what kind of music they play, etc.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Knight of Ghosts and Shadows (book) by Mercedes Lackey and Ellen Guon - Eric Banyon is a talented and melancholy street-busker. It turns out that his skill with a flute is more than ordinary - Eric is a fledgling Bard, and his music can work magic. His abilities attract all kinds of attention, both good and bad, and he ends up teaming up with Beth (who is, among other things, a witch) and Korendil (an elven warrior). Those who'd like something else with magical, world-saving music might want to try this.
  • War for the Oaks (book) by Emma Bull - Eddi has just left her boyfriend and their band. She is in the process of forming a new band when she gets drawn into the conflict between the Seelie and Unseelie Faerie Courts. There to guard her and make sure she plays her part is a phouka, a dangerous man who can sometimes become a talking dog. Those who'd like another story involving music, fantasy, and a big battle might want to try this.
  • Soul Music (book) by Terry Pratchett - Death takes a vacation, Death's granddaughter takes over for a bit, and an aspiring musician named Imp y Celen (aka Buddy) finds a magical guitar and forms a band with a troll, a dwarf, and an orangutan as his bandmates. Those who'd like another story dealing with the formation of a band and the power of music may want to try this. This book is also great for those looking for something a bit (ok, a lot) more humorous.
  • Beck (manga) by Harold Sakuishi; BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad (anime TV series) - Fourteen-year-old Yukio Tanaka is a fairly boring person with a fairly boring life who yearns for more. His life is changed when he meets wild 16-year-old Ryusuke Minami, who's in a band called BECK, named after his strange patchwork dog. Those who loved the music aspects of The Last Days, who loved reading about characters who love music, and who thought the list of bands/chapter titles at the end of the book was a nice touch, might want to try this.

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