As the story moves along, Jessie's relationships with her gang members change, and she has some unsettling experiences with her long-lost brother and sister when they show up in her zombie world. The plot has some definite parallels to Steven King's The Stand (e.g., a man-made plague, multiple characters having the same dream and feeling compelled to travel to a certain place). The book's theme is related to the chaos theory—that one innocent action can ripple out and affect the entire world, and not in a good way. In this case, though, it's not a butterfly flapping its wings in the rain forest; it's a zombie's one-time attempt to reconnect with her mortal sister.
The violence factor is very high, with lots of gnashing of bloody body parts, plenty of maggots and beetles crawling out of various body cavities, and rotted limbs falling off and being left to decay in the woods. Jessie is a true UF heroine—more rural than urban, but on her own and filled with angst about her "life" and her relationships. Jessie's gang members are in various states of "zombieness"—from newly turned 'maldies (formaldehyde-preserved corpses) to bug-infested feeders to dusties on the verge of final death—and they all have their own personalities and problems, so the group dynamics are interesting—kind of like the gang from Lord of the Flies, only undead.
As Frail begins, the "human" population has broken into three groups as a result of a mutation called the feeding plague, which caused its victims to become extraordinarily hungry all the time—24/7—hungry enough to eat anything, from real food to grass to paper to plastic to asphalt. By the time the plague has run its course, each of the small group of survivors belongs to one of these three groups:
> ex-zombies: They look like humans, but have a rotten smell. They crave flesh, are extremely strong, heal from any injury, and are for the most part unkillable and immortal.
> ex-humans: They are also hungry, strong, and immortal, just like the ex-zombies, but without the bad smell. Amy calls groups 1 and 2 "the exes."
> pure humans: They were untouched by and seemingly immune to the effects of the mutation. They are mortal and can die from disease and/or violence.
The heroine, Amy, is one of the rare pure humans, called frails because they are so much weaker than the exes. As the story opens, Amy is alone, wandering from one town to the next as she gathers supplies and tries to ignore the apparition of a fierce dog that seems to be following her. Amy soon meets up with Lisa, who is the ex-human sister of Jessie, the heroine of the previous book. Lisa and Amy form a fragile partnership and travel on together, but are soon captured and taken to a makeshift settlement of exes and humans, where they discover that in this dystopic society, the exes are in charge and the humans are their slaves. The story follows Amy as she deals with secrets from her past, hallucinations (or maybe demonic spirits) in her present, and total uncertainty in her future. This book sheds light on the mysterious activities taking place at the labs on the shores of Lake Michigan that were also mentioned in the previous book. Those labs have a direct connection with Amy and her mother, Lisa and her sister, and several other characters in this book. Two characters from the previous book show up in this one: Maggie and Billy, neither of whom is friendly toward Lisa or Amy. Frail has much less blood-and-gore violence than Dust, but more sadistic cruelty, particularly in a near-rape scene and in the way the exes abuse their human "pets" physically and emotionally. This book is also more mystical, with its phantom dog and the "friendly man," both of whom have demonic overtones. The ending leaves Amy and her ragtag group on the road again, ready for their adventures in book three.
This is an entirely different kind of story than the one told in Dust, and I have to admit that I liked book one better. Frail is filled to overflowing with metaphorical language and mystical experiences, sometimes to the point of perplexity for the reader, whereas Dust was a novel of fairly straightforward, if strange, relationships, even though there was a mystical element in that book as well. Also, Amy comes across as a sullen teen-ager, swinging back and forth between blaming herself for every bad thing that happens and whining that "It's not my fault." Really, I think that Jessie in Dust made a much more sympathetic heroine. I'll be reading book three, though, because I'm guessing that Amy's group will somehow connect with Jessie and that together they'll solve the mystery of the labs, the causes of the plague, and whatever additional problems surface in that book. By the way, Frail can easily be read as a stand-alone, but it will be a richer experience if you also read Dust.
Click HERE to read a free on-line story that takes place in the Frail world.