Yep. Zombies. I might as well go ahead and face it: I’m an addict.
I used to think I hated post-apocalyptic stories. I’m not sure why. I have since come to realize that the concept is one of my favorites. I love the start, when a writer has to address the reactions of ordinary people to extraordinary circumstances – what I described in another review as the period when people are still standing there watching creatures who used to be friends and family shambling closer and closer, wondering why cousin Jimmy is so pale, and why is he growling; when the media is still active and the authorities are still trying to get a handle on things – and then they’re not anymore. I love all the machinations of survival in a depopulated world, in the beginning clearing out stores and abandoned homes and finding shelter and weapons in previously impossible places (like, why don’t more people claim swords or medieval weaponry from local museums and collections in The Walking Dead?), while assessing and either assimilating or fighting off other survivors. I love the later stage, when supplies are scarce to nonexistent and new ways of feeding survivors have to be found. I love the forced rediscovery of forgotten skills, and the double threat of “kill the dead (or whatever the menace is), fear the living”. Oh, and then there’s the whole cause of the end of the world: the how, and the why, and maybe the who, and what do the heroes of the book do about it, if anything? Therefore – yep, zombies.
I also used to hate present-tense narrative… It’s still not my favorite, but I get it. Immediacy, urgency, action, You Are There… I don’t know that it really has that effect on my reading experience, but I understand the concept.
The third thing I still don’t care for is gory violence. I’m just not interested in fight scenes. To be honest, during these detailed bits of books where the author is painstakingly describing how A struck at B and B hit A and A ducked and swiped and B dodged and rolled … I’m usually skimming, wondering how writers choreograph this stuff in their heads – do some people just pick a fight from a film and crib off it? Do people have martial arts experts read the scenes to make sure they’re practical and possible? – and pondering the fact that if I ever pick up my writing again there probably won’t be any detailed fights in any book I ever write because they bore me silly …
This is all those things I used to hate, or actually do hate – post-apocalyptic, present tense, violence. And it’s all in there – friends and family fall, and heroes flee, new alliances form, and talk about taking shelter somewhere which would have been impossible: the little group of survivors finds a larger group – – in Disneyworld. Which is actually a great idea: the park was evacuated as the strange illness began to take hold, and obviously is going to be pretty thoroughly fenced in (in halcyon days, to keep out those who haven’t bought tickets; in the post-apoc, to keep out zombies and bad guys), and there will be food for thousands onsite. The odd thing is that I don’t believe the word “Disney” was ever used. Legal matters, I assume, but I still find it odd; it’s obvious what is meant.
Back there when I said I enjoyed the beginnings of apocalypses? That is very much what you get here. The book begins well before Patient Zero pops up, and explores the personal lives and personalities of the people who will become the survivors we follow through the story:
There’s Asher, who has a rocky romantic life in the months before The End, what with recognizing his own homosexuality and working through that revelation with his family and friends, and the ups and downs with his first boyfriend – looking back on which makes me wonder why on earth I gave this four stars. I was ready to throw said first boyfriend to the zombies long before it was even possible in the story, because his treatment of … everybody was unconscionable, glossed over with a very cute and charming surface.
And then there’s Rico, a drug-addicted teenager who (like, I feel compelled to say, Nick of “Fear the Walking Dead”) is pretty much saved by the end of the world: he finds himself guardian of his very young half brother, whom he loves. To keep him safe, he holds it together and straightens out. His back story was interesting – very rich father whom he loathes, hard-working mother, intelligent but destroying himself with all sorts of drugs, learning the hard way that dealing drugs is not something to be engaged in casually… I liked him, despite all of his self-destructive tendencies.
The beginning of the end was nicely done, if slow in coming. I think others were frustrated by what was, in a way, a long prologue, in which Asher engages in his m/m romance novel and Rico spirals downward, but I kind of liked the slow burn of the long fuse of the oncoming apocalypse: there’s a news story here, and a “did you hear?” there, and then a couple more – and then it basically explodes. I was surprised at some of the characters who died on that first day – those story lines that the author took so long to build just get snipped like Atropos went on a bender, and that resulted in a feeling of disorientation which wasn’t much fun, but which I suppose worked in context.
And, yes, the book is told in the first person, which I don’t think has the impact it’s supposed to, but I’m reconciled to it.
The writing is serviceable, and of course suffers from all the usual maladies of not-the-right-word and all that. There are times when the tone comes off a bit juvenile (“a scuzzy film”?); there is perhaps more vomiting than is strictly called for… and for the love of God if you’re going to write a zombie novel make sure the word “horde” is spelled correctly throughout – that it’s not “hoard” sometimes and not others. Please.
There is a sort of a cliffhanger at the end of the book – actually, no, an almost literal cliffhanger, in which something happens to a main character and the reader is left uncertain as to whether this person might have survived – and I hated that. Is there going to be a second book? If so, when? It’s a bit iffy for a brand-new author to leave a character almost literally up in the air. But, except for that and the sadly inevitable writing hiccups, the book was enjoyable.
The main selling point for the book is, I have to say, that it comes from the (I think) brand spankin’ new Nerdist publishing enterprise. Not that that guarantees awesomeness, but it does lead to high expectations. I find it utterly extraordinary that a book from possibly the geekiest place on earth (see what I did there?) is available right now for preorder in hardcover only… So odd.
The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.