It’s Ray’s and Sandra’s first family holiday in Greece, on the island of Vasilema. The skies are cloudier than anywhere else in Greece, and they’re intrigued by local eccentricities—the lack of mirrors, the outsize beach umbrellas, the saint’s day celebrated with an odd nocturnal ritual. Why are there islanders who seem to follow the family wherever they go? Why do Sandra and the teenage grandchildren have strangely similar dreams? Has Sandra been granted a wish she didn’t know she made? Before their holiday is over, some of the family may learn too much about the secret that keeps the island alive.
Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach by Ramsey Campbell. Published September 6th 2018 by Flame Tree Press (first published October 2015). My copy is a Kindle edition, 256 pages. I received this book from Netgalley and Flame Tree Press in exchange for an honest review.
I never like to read book reviews for a book I’m reading until after I have finished the book and have formed my own opinions. When I finished Thirteen Days and looked at the reviews other people had given it, I could understand why so many people were split on this book. It seems people either loved it or hated it. I get it. This was a very unique take on a problem with vampires. An extremely slow burn with mounting tension that sometimes felt like it lead to nowhere. The climax of the story was not a huge all out fight with the villain, but was more like a dog leaving the fight with it’s tail between it’s legs. The family was really frustratingly blind to what was going on and some of the characters were just down right assholes. To some people, all of that was a real turn off. Like I said, I get it. But for me, I found I actually really enjoyed this book.
First, let me talk a bit about the plot. There is this Greek island that has been infested with an ancient, blood-sucking evil for centuries. The people who live there are desperate to spare their families and town from this horrible evil. What can they do to keep their towns alive? They aren’t strong enough to fight it. So what do you do when this dark evil wants to feed on your family? You feed it someone else. The island creates a tourist attraction and becomes a hot new spot for vacationers from all over the world. And the cattle come willingly right on in to the feeding frenzy. I thought that whole set up was just epic win all over. In all these vampire stories, it always feels the same…you have the vampires arrive and then the town fights against them and tries to kill them. Thirteen Days felt like a nice twist on the vampire angle.
So let’s talk about the main group of characters, the family. OMFG they were so frustrating. And annoying. There was tension, and arguing and patronizing tones. The teens were kinda bored and the adults just barely tolerated each other. Some characters you just flat out don’t like because of what a jerk they are. But see, that’s just it… This family, with all their flaws, felt real. It felt like a real group family vacation. There will be tension. There will be that one ass in the family that nobody really likes but everyone just tries to tolerate. There will be things you disagree with and kids and adults not seeing eye to eye. Yes. Many times I wanted to close my book and just slap some of these characters in the face with it. Repeatedly. But families are drama. And this was well written. Also, there was a point for all the tension between the family. With all the internal struggling with each other, it blinded them to all the odd things going on around them. If they hadn’t been so caught up in their own drama, maybe they would have noticed what was happening on this island a lot sooner. I thought that was a pretty great commentary on being too wrapped up in your own head with your own problems and not seeing the bigger picture around you, and what kind of price that could cost you.
Next, the slow burn and the climax. So, like I was just saying, the characters were so wrapped up in their bickering that they didn’t realize there was something pretty sinister going on through the whole vacation. For about 11 days you just see the family milling about, going from one touristy thing to another, enjoying the sites and the odd culture customs. Sometimes there would be a supernaturally tense moment that would happen and the family just doesn’t even realize it or acknowledge it and then the tension would pass. Up and down, up and down, over and over. It was very frustrating that there were clear signs of vampires and the family is just like totally ignorant of it. Again, I wanted to slap more people with my book. But then I would think of my own family. How would they react if this was our vacation. Aside from me yelling “VAMPIRE!!!“, flailing my arms and pointing at everything, I realized the rest of my family would be that
stupid oblivious and would try to find the benign explanation of whatever was going on, just like the characters in the book. So again, while very frustrating, it felt super realistic. The same can be said for the climax. There really wasn’t much of one. Yes, we do eventually see the head evil guy on the island, but don’t expect a huge showdown between good and evil or anything else like that. There is no massive death and destruction, no Rambo vs. the vampire moments to be had. It’s just a normal family who is on vacation, shit gets weird, and they just want to go home. And then they do. Like I said earlier on, this is not your average vampire story. If you are looking and waiting for Buffy or Van Helsing, you will be disappointed. I really think that is why some of the people who have read this book were so upset with it. It is not a typical vampire story.
Was Thirteen Days frustrating in some ways? Yes. Yes it was. But I was entertained and enjoyed it. I liked that it was a different sort of vampire story and just featured average people who didn’t want to fight, they just wanted to survive.
2 thoughts on “Review: Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach by Ramsey Campbell”
What a great review. I stumbled with this one, never really warming up to any of the characters. I think t would have enjoyed this more as a film but all in all it entertained me and I would read more by this author.
Some of the characters made warming up to them reaaaaaally difficult! But yeah, I feel the same way 🙂