You know those books that grip you with a good story and refuse to let you do anything short of devour it? Few manage to truly and honestly marry me to their pages regardless of their literary merit or how well they’re written. Plague Town is one of those books, and not only is the prose good, but it’s seasoned with a dash of steamy romance and an excellent sense of originality and pacing. In other words, it survives the zombie apocalypse in style.
Plague Town, by Dana Fredsti (@zhadi1), is a zom-rom-com-dram (yeah, I totally just coined that). Translation? It’s a zombie romantic comedy/drama, and you’ll want to read it in as few sittings as possible. Seriously, this book pulled me in hard like a ravenous zombie.
Fredsti is no stranger to zombie fiction or pop culture, and she infuses that knowledge into her story every step of the way. She has an enviable knack for precise and energetic writing, and she builds characters very well. So well, in fact, that Lily (one of the best in the book) became the little sister I never had. That’s how vividly I could imagine her character.
The author also knows sex—and it shows. The romantic involvement in the book does take a backseat to the zombie invasion, but when it’s pushed to the forefront, it’s not cheesy or tacky or embarrassing. It’s honest-to-goodness sex, and Fredsti writes it like a pro.
But back to the pop culture familiarity. Fredsti never skips a beat, constantly making fun references to actual horror lore through the eyes of her quirky main character, Ashley Parker (who is awesome, and not just because she’s a girl). The world knows about zombies the same way we do, and when the outbreak happens, this little detail spares the reader from the downtime of exposition—the kind that drags its feet as slowly as the zombies do.
(Fredsti even throws in a subtle nod to Max Brooks’ World War Z with the occasional mention of “zeds.”)
Because so much already exists as groundwork, the story is more believable and appreciable as an addition to the media’s ongoing fascination with zombies—from The Walking Dead on AMC and in comics to video games (Yakuza: Dead Souls is a recent goodie) and countless movies, etc. etc. Plague Town uses them all as a stepping stone to a greater telling because it acknowledges and at times incorporates their own contributions.
Plague Town unravels military secrets and pours on the blood, just like you’d expect. It also compensates for why some people (I can’t help but think Resident Evil here) can withstand zombie attacks without actually turning. The book answers mystery this with “wild cards”: humans like Ashley with an immunity to the zombie virus, giving them enhanced abilities and a better chance at survival after their resistance is activated by an otherwise deadly zombie bite. Of course, they’re still prone to death by mauling, but otherwise they can take all the nips and bloody goo that might come their way.
All while reading this, I thought how awesome it would be if Fredsti expanded the book into a series. Because I couldn’t get enough of it or her writing, and it’s not often that I’d commit to a sequel immediately after finishing a book. But guess what? Two more books, Plague Nation and Plague World, are forthcoming.
I went into Zombie Blondes (2010) by Brian James hoping for a fun spin on high school drama. All those oh-so-per...more(Posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages.)
I went into Zombie Blondes (2010) by Brian James hoping for a fun spin on high school drama. All those oh-so-perfect popular kids … what if they’re really zombies? What poetic justice that would be. It sounded like a light read and a good break for the winter. But what I ended up with was a lot more brainless than I expected.
The book is all about Hannah — Hannah, Hannah, Hannah. She’s just about the most selfish and unsympathetic teenage character you can happen upon. She’s moody to her father, rude to her friends (and might-be friends), and self-pitying even when things are going her way. I know the author was probably trying to make these qualities endearing — a grumpy but lovable misfit who just wants to fit in — but on Hannah, they’re ugly colors.
She’s the new girl in school, and the closest person she has to a friend is Lukas. She flips back and forth from liking him (and calling him cute) to badmouthing him in private and calling him crazy and a freak. Her mixed signals are confusing and annoying. Poor Lukas puts up with all her crap, and even when he gets mad at her and keeps his distance, he winds up forgiving her and suffering more of her insults.
Hannah acts this way because she wants so desperately to be normal, but Lukas is never good enough for her. She’d rather be friends with the popular girls who treat her like dirt. And her self-esteem is so low that when they finally stop humiliating her and inviting her little by little to “become” one of them (quite literally, as they’re a zombie recruitment death squad), she falls for it. Completely. As long as their words and actions seem genuine, she’s more than happy to join them even when it means shrugging off everything that makes her unique.
Every cheerleader on the team is alike — unnaturally so, and that’s what Lukas tries to convince Hannah of all throughout the book. But she’s too naive or too in denial to recognize the countless signs (two plus two equals ZOMBIES), and she doesn’t trust her gut until she sees the most gruesome evidence laid out before her. I have a hard time empathizing with a character who lies to herself so much and treats good people so poorly.
The climax — the big reveal — doesn’t happen until very late in the book, and then it plays out like a bad horror movie action scene. Before this, Lukas constantly refers to comic book zombie stories as a cliché way of explaining what’s happening at their school, and he continues to use them here. Author Brian James doesn’t take advantage of the larger metaphor at work, either — that people can be flat-out undead zombies but also the figural kind. He does establish a few connections, but they’re so minor that you barely notice. He misses out on a lot of potential.
James’s writing is a letdown. I’m not fond of how often he resorts to fragments. I know they’re done stylistically, but it just feels lazy.
He also leaves some gaping plot holes, and it’s not a very long book — only 232 pages in the hardcover version. Most of my questions are about the last few chapters, so I won’t spoil it for you. The final scene packs a nice twist, but the ending is terse and kind of disappointing.(less)
Take a look at the cover for Where the Dead Fear to Tread by M.R. Gott (sequel forthcoming) and you pretty much...more(Posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages.)
Take a look at the cover for Where the Dead Fear to Tread by M.R. Gott (sequel forthcoming) and you pretty much know what to expect. It looks like it could be an action movie poster, right? Unfortunately, that’s what the book most resembles — a movie. Maybe the author is in the wrong business because as a popcorn movie, this story might work. It doesn’t as a novel.
Where the Dead is about an antihero who punishes child abusers and tangles with ghosts, vampires, and werewolves. That might sound like a sensible, collected premise, but that’s not how the book reads. It wants to be both a detective story and supernatural fiction, and the result is a mangled hybrid between the two. There’s no consistency to its world — you have no idea what to expect next not because the plot is fascinating and unpredictable but because it feels like Gott is making it up as he goes along.
A lot of it is pretty cheesy. I can’t take seriously an eyeless vampire playing Chopin or a female cop running around naked with dual pistols in her hands — or worse, a ghost chanting “bare ass escape.” The silliness of it conflicts with the larger image the book projects about its characters, who are all tough, badass, and angry as hell. Sometimes all the dialogue consists of are accusatory remarks and swearing (“bitch” appears multiple times on the same page, for instance). It’s hard to get a feel for any real depth when you imagine all the characters looking like the guy on the cover: serious face, smoking gun, leather trenchcoat, clever comeback on the tongue. What’s even weirder is that some of these defensive/offensive quips involve negative comparisons to children: “Don’t threaten me like some fucking child” is an odd choice of words when the main investigation that everyone’s wrapped up in involves a child’s disappearance and protection of the innocent.
Gott’s book is quite vulgar at times, but that isn’t an asset. Those moments of bitter dialogue are too forced. His real strength lies in his descriptions of his creatures, particularly the maggot-infested cemetery Caretaker and his minions. The rest is a bunch of long action scenes strung together. They’re incredibly boring to read and wouldn’t be half as bad if they were slimmed down and spaced apart between nice chunks of meaningful character development, which there’s much too little of.
I found most of these characters hard to believe or care about. The “serial killer” and antihero — one of the protagonists of the book, William Chandler — is supposed to be dangerous and capable, but he beats himself up over not being able to save a baby bird, which is just about the sappiest and most ridiculous plot point ever. Granted, it was less embarrassing once I learned his reasons (he was unable to save someone close to him who died in a similar manner), but that wasn’t revealed until much later in the book. By that time, I had already stopped being interested in the character.
It’s a common movie trope to glamorize characters who are tough and angry and “mysterious,” but underneath the leather, there’s not much substance. That’s the mistake that puts Where the Dead in the ground.(less)
Let me introduce you to Dana Fredsti, the creator of a smart zombie meta-fiction meets steamy gore-st...more(Originally posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages.)
Let me introduce you to Dana Fredsti, the creator of a smart zombie meta-fiction meets steamy gore-stained-clothes-be-damned romance called Plague Nation. It’s the sequel to Plague Town (here’s my review), which was my favorite book from last year. I thought a zombie novelization would be stupid. I was dead wrong.
Now, I love zombie movies. It’s easy to react to the horror of blood and guts when it’s splattering all over the screen. Reading about it is less visceral, in theory anyway. But Fredsti knows how to squeeze words for all their disgusting worth, and she even establishes a community with fellow film aficionados by playing off famous movies through her characters — mostly an elite class of virus-resistant fighters called the DZN, who have received a top-notch zombie education in order to do their job: picking the streets clean of flesh-hungry walkers. So they cite zombie flicks a lot. Gotta have some fun amidst all the depressing carnage, right?
Book Two is a strong continuation of what Plague Town started. Some of what originally captivated about the plot has ground away, but the emotional tension has increased. Fredsti’s writing still demands my attention, and I adore (and hate) these characters even more than before. That connection is strengthened by her personable storytelling.
The romance, which culminated in a blush-worthy sex scene last time, sputters out in chapter one — on purpose. It immediately creates new conflict and is an effective way for the story to dig its hooks into the reader. In short, hunk-of-man Gabriel is giving protagonist Ashley Parker growls instead of cuddles, curtness instead of sweetness, and it’s driving her crazy. Of course, Gabriel has his reasons — he’s one of the few victims of the zombie virus who didn’t change into a mindless walker or turn out to be a booty-kicking “wild card” like Ashley and the team. He needs a special serum to function properly or risk becoming a cannibalistic half-human. We get an ugly glimpse of what that’s like through Jake, one of the other characters focused on in this book.
Ashley and Gabriel’s relationship is only one point of interest, though, as the author opens up the love possibilities to other characters. But don’t think Plague Nation is all kiss and tell. It has plenty of killing, too — along with painful loss and nasty mutations as readers learn more about the virus that’s spreading across America and beyond.
I doubt the DZN can believably contain the virus in the third and final book, as the situation can only worsen as it expands to global territories. Fredsti’s biggest challenge is to prepare these characters with a bad-ass plan of action; after all, saving the world takes a lot of work.
New allies should help with that (and props to Fredsti for inventing one lovable acrobatic daredevil, who appears later in the book), but the enemies are multiplying, too — like the mysterious Griffin, who seems to suffer from the same problem as Gabriel but without all the fuss and high-maintenance.
It’ll be fun to see how crazy the outbreak and conspiracy gets and how the good guys cope with the crisis. They’re the core of the story — what drives it forward and keeps it fresh in between headshots and showers of red goo.(less)