Zombies are hot these days and seem to be cropping up everywhere. The Walking Dead, whether you’re a fan of the comic or the TV series, has incredible momentum as it heads into its fourth season starting in fall 2013. Films like Warm Bodies have proven that though walkers have been around on the big screen since 1968 (thank you, George A. Romero) there’s still room to explore what it means to be a zombie in the mainstream. And even big-name actor Brad Pitt will soon wade into the zombie fray with World War Z, which means they’re really hitting the big time.
As the giant ball of zombie fun has picked up speed, we’ve seen more and more zombie stories—both good and bad—show up in novel form as well. Novels from authors like Madeleine Roux (Sadie Walker is Stranded), Mira Grant (Deadline), and Jonathan Maberry (Dead of Night, Patient Zero, Rot & Ruin) have proven repeatedly that books featuring characters you can identify with attempting to survive a zombie outbreak still have punch even though the market seems to be reaching a saturation point. So what can authors do to rise to the top and get noticed? Use solid writing, characterization, empathy, and occasionally throw a ton of pop culture references and sarcasm into the mix.
A while back I reviewed Plague Town by Dana Fredsti, which features protagonist Ashley Parker—a sarcastic tough girl who just happens to have the right combination of DNA to survive a zombie apocalypse in a college town. It was a fun, if predictable, romp through zombie territory that I enjoyed quite a bit.
Well, Ashley Parker is back in Fredsti’s Plague Nation. And the outbreak has left college and started to conquer the world—one state at a time. How will Ashley and her ragtag group of zombie hunters fare in a larger battle? Will they fold under the pressure, or find some way to cure the plague in time to save thousands of innocent lives before they become zombie chow?
Plague Nation picks up just a day or two after the end of Plague Town as Ashley and the rest of the Wild Cards (people seemingly immune to the zombie virus with a boost to strength, speed, and their basic senses) continue to clean up the mess in Redwood Grove. One building at a time they are dispatching any of the zoms still locked in their posthumous existence. But even as they fight their way to clean up the town, bigger things are afoot. The plague is spreading to other cities and states. Can similar groups contain the spread as new hot spots flare up? Or is it already too late to get things under control?
If you’ve ever seen a zombie movie, I think you know the answer already. It’s a zombie epidemic, not an isolated incident. And your everyday Joe on the street is simply not capable of reacting to an onslaught of staggering undead folks who want to sample his muscle tone with their teeth. As you might expect, things boil out of control quickly with screaming masses of people attempting to escape and only finding themselves in worse trouble.
Beyond that insanity, there’s also a new player on the field. Sure, we have Ashley and her crew attempting to find a cure. And we have the zombies who are snacking their way across the country. But now there may be a mastermind behind the plague bent on creating more destruction and chaos. Will they succeed?
Honestly, Plague Nation feels like the middle book of a trilogy, attempting to bridge the gap between the local effects of zombies and a worldwide zombie apocalypse. It does that admirably, but as I got to the end I could see that it was leaving a particularly annoying cliffhanger so things would be resolved in the next book—Plague World. The wheels were turning very slowly in places to make way for setting up the finale.