Book Review: I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

It’s been a while since I posted a review, hasn’t it? I have been reading. It’s just that nothing wowed me until now. This is my spoiler free review of Richard Matheson’s vampire classic, I Am Legend. Yes, VAMPIRES. Forget what you saw in any of the film adaptations. In my opinion, they don’t do the book justice.

I Am LegendFrom the publisher: From out of the night came the living dead with one purpose: destroy Robert Neville, the last man on earth. A mysterious plague has swept the planet leaving in its wake this one survivor. But there is still life of a sort–vampires, the strengthless half-dead who press on Neville from every side. He is almost tempted to join them in I AM LEGEND.

Written in 1954, I Am Legend tells the story of the last man on earth, Robert Neville, who is struggling to survive day by day as the undead seek his blood. It’s amazing how well this story holds up almost sixty years later. Aside from the record players, you wouldn’t know this story is supposed to take place in the mid-seventies. With that being said, this is a character study. A finely crafted character study of a man down to his last, a man on the brink of madness in the wake of a plague ridden world. Make no mistake about it, Robert Neville is the star of this story. Readers follow him as he struggles with trying to cope with being alone and trying to survive against not only the blood crazed vampires, but the plague that created them.

Mr. Matheson does a fantastic job keeping readers focused on Neville and the vampires aren’t as important to the story as his main character. Readers experience what it feels like as Neville’s mental state fluctuates from seemingly normal, all the way to damn you cray-cray! I felt compelled to see Neville find someone else, anyone really. I kept thinking there had to be someone else out there. By the end, I wanted Neville to not only survive, but thrive. And then I realized it was because I wanted not just Neville, but humanity (because I too am human) to survive. Mr. Matheson does that to his readers. He has a way of placing them, and their humanity, in his main character. I loved it.

Believe it or not, the vampires play a minor role in this story. Sure, the world is full of them but Neville spends his time either reliving the past, questioning his existence, or trying to learn more about what caused the plague. Don’t get me wrong, the vampires are a constant threat, and a threat Neville usually doesn’t take lightly, but they aren’t at the center of the story. I will say Mr. Matheson’s theories behind this vampire plague are genuinely interesting and I can clearly see his influence on writers like Brian Lumley (author of the NECROSCOPE series), Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (co-authors of THE STRAIN series).

If you’re a fan of vampires, you should, without a doubt, pick up this book. Horror fans will like this one too. Many of the modern masters have been influenced by Richard Matheson, you may too. If anything, you’ll find a clinic on how to write a borderline insane character that readers still root for, and love. While most classics feel dated and dry, I Am Legend lives up to the name…and then some.

What I liked:

  • The main character, Robert Neville, was presented as flawed as any “normal” person would be coping with the end of the world. Mr. Matheson crafted a memorable character, and he had to because there aren’t that many. Neville is easily one of the best characters I’ve read in a long time.
  • Mr. Matheson did an excellent job making readers feel Neville’s isolation. We really believe his is the last man on earth.
  • I found myself wanting Neville to survive. I unknowingly cared what happened to Neville. I’d giggle at his crazy moments. I’d chastise him when he screwed up. It was like I was there, pulling for Neville.
  • Mr. Matheson had me questioning, and thinking about, my humanity. Who am I? What would I do? How would I survive? Any book that can get you thinking about big issues is doing something right.
  • The post-apocalyptic world, even though it was small, was well done. Neville had to forage for supplies, constantly re-build fortifications, and dispose of dead vampires daily.
  • The science behind the vampire plague was genuinely interesting.
  • I like how Neville took to the bottle when he was stressed, or sad, or depressed. It was another aspect of how real he felt. I could see many of us doing the same thing.

What I didn’t like:

  • The ending. I’m not going to spoil anything but I didn’t believe Neville would do what he did.
  • I would have liked a little more action involving the vampires. There was some, but I think there were places where the story could have been beefed up with action.

Overall: I’d give I Am Legend four out of five stars. This definitely is a classic vampire story that should be read by fans of the genre. I would caution anyone seeking this book because of any of the three versions of the film. You won’t find those stories here. What you will find is a character driven story of a man and how he struggles to survive in a world lost to a vampire plague. The book is far superior, in my opinion, to the films. All-in-all, this is a timeless read that should be on the shelf of any horror, and/or vampire fan. Seriously, pick it up today.


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