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Monday, July 25, 2011

Diana Rowland: WHITE TRASH ZOMBIE SERIES

Author:  Diana Rowland
Series:  WHITE TRASH ZOMBIE
Plot Type:  UF
Ratings:  V4; S2; H3
Publisher and Titles:  Daw
     My Life as a White Trash Zombie (7/2011)
     Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues (7/2012)
     White Trash Zombie Apocalypse (7/2013)   

     This post was revised and updated on 8/7/13 to include a review of the third novel in the series, White Trash Zombie Apocalypse. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of novels 1 and 2:

            BOOK 3:  White Trash Zombie Apocalypse            
     Angel has been a zombie for almost a year now, and she's settling into her new life as well as can be expected, given the dangerous events chronicled in the first two books. Fortunately, her job at the morgue is going smoothly, and she's about to take her GED exam, so life is looking pretty good. As the story opens, Angel is on the job, picking up a body at the local high school, where a film company is making a zombie movie. When Angel is nearly run over by a speeding car outside the school, she is rescued by Phillip, the zombie she was forced to create in the previous book. Angel is shocked to see Phillip, but he runs off before she can thank him for saving her life. Already we can guess that Phillip and the zombie movie will no doubt play key parts in the plot.

     Gradually, suspicious events and overheard conversations cause Angel to suspect that the movie-making group is hiding some nefarious secrets, but she just can't figure out what they are. Then, she is attacked by zombies (one of whom is Phillip), and a woman takes a blood sample from her while Phillip holds her down. Then they tranquilize her and leave her in her truck in a downpour of rain with several broken bones and mashed internal organs.

     The plot follows Angel as she gets involved in dangerous happenings, always resulting in serious injuries that require extra doses of her brainy nutritional smoothies. As the rain keeps coming nonstop, the river floods the lowlands where Angel and her dad live in their "rustic" little housewith frightening consequences for the Crawford family.

     Angel's relationship with Marcus is still rocky because he won't stop trying to advise her how to live her life. Late in the story, though, Angel figures out why Marcus is acting so paternally, so perhaps their relationship will get better. Marcus had better get himself together, though, because there's another man in Angel's life who would like her to give him a chance.

     This is a strong entry in the series, with a compelling story line and a great deal of character development, particularly for Brian Palmer (Pietro Ivanov's head of security) and Pietro himself, although Pietro makes a major TSTL move in this book when he continues to trust a character who has proven in the past to be completely untrustworthy and probably sociopathic. Although the mysteries in the plot are interesting and somewhat suspenseful, I was able to figure out what was going on long before Angel did. Even so, it's a good story, and I'm looking forward to more of Angel's adventures, mostly because she's such a fascinating character. Click HERE to listen to a brief audio excerpt from the book (scroll down a bit to find it).   
 
            WORLD-BUILDING            
     In this world, zombies can heal themselves and give themselves super strength and speed if they regularly and frequently consume brains. If they miss a few days, however, they begin to fall apart in the familiar zombie way—strips of skin falling off, skin color turning gray, and rotting odor growing stronger and stronger. In book 1, the whole idea of the super-strength zombies and the healing powers of brains just didn’t work for me. It was as if the author took the traditional vampire mythology and forced in zombies as replacements for the vamps:

Traditional Vampires…
     > Are created by the bite of another vamp
     Must have human blood to maintain strength
     Attain super strength through excessive blood consumption
     Become mindless monsters without blood consumption

Rowland's Zombies…
     Are created by the bite of another zombie
     Must have human brains to maintain strength
     Attain super strength through excessive brain consumption
     Become mindless monsters without brain consumption

     The idea of self-healing, super-strong, ├╝ber-speedy zombies clashes with the inarguable fact that zombies are undead, rotting creatures—a reality that Rowland’s world-building absolutely denies. Another problem is that a number of upright citizens are walking around as zombies—and no one can tell that they are dead. Although she is herself a zombie, even Angel can’t tell a human from a zombie.

     Note added after reading book 2: Although there are still a few points in the mythology that still need clearing up (like the zombies' inability to recognize a fellow zombie on sight—or smell), book 2 does clear up a lot of questions for me. The author builds the new information in as part of the plot, although it is presented in kind of an info-dump manner. Still, better to get all the details out there, one way or another.


            Book 1: My Life as a White Trash Zombie            
     This is a book that I wanted to love: great cover art and a terrifically inventive premise. Angel Crawford has always felt and acted like a loser, dropping out of school to lead a pill-popping, alcohol-fueled life. Having a mentally ill, suicidal mother and an alcoholic father hasn’t helped the situation. Currently, Angel is on parole for possessing a stolen car. As the story opens, Angel has just been picked up by the local police from the side of a country road—naked and full of drugs. She can’t remember anything about what happened that night. The next day, Angel receives an anonymous note telling her that she has a job in the county morgue and if she doesn’t show up and act right she will be going to jail. When Angel reports to work, she is surprised to find that she has no problem with the dead bodies, no matter what state of decomposition they are in. She is even more surprised that her stomach growls every time a brain is exposed during an autopsy. So…Angel seemingly has a new addiction: brrraaaaaaaains! Add in a cute police detective and a serial killer who chops off heads, and you have an imaginative new paranormal series. The major theme for book 1 is that Angel’s zombiness actually saves her life. By the end of the book, she has cleaned up her act and has become an upstanding citizen.

     The serial killer plot thread sustained my interest right up until the killer was unveiled. The killer’s identity came out of left field, and not in a good way. In one short scene and with no real clues, Angel is suddenly able to spot the villain and charge in for the rescue. The suspenseful build-up was a lot better than the actual ending.

     Having said all this, I must confess that I really like Angel as a character. With her smart (and profane) mouth and her cynical take on life, she is both entertaining and heartbreaking—a girl who never had a chance for a “normal” life, and now never will. Her gradual metamorphosis into a compassionate and honorable young woman is a big part of the charm of the story. I’m looking forward to book 2 to see what’s next for Angel.

     Here are a few quotations from book 1 to give you a feel for Angel's need for brains and how she deals with it:

Angel has her first brain cravings:  "But I'd been craving brains. The smell was like chocolate and cookies and biscuits and gravy and everything else that was delicious It damn near drove me crazy every time I had to touch one. I'd been fighting the cravings the way I'd never fought the urge to take drugs or get drunk." (p. 56)

Angel's first brain snatch at the morgue:  "I looked down at the organs swimming in the clear plastic bag. I didn't even fully remember..unzipping the body bag. A weird calm descended on me. I was really going to do this....I didn't look at any of the other organs. I wasn't grossed out by them; they simply held no interest for me. It was the segments of brain that held my attention....It looked like pieces of bread pudding that had been soaked in raspberry syrup." (pp. 65-66)

Angel gets creative with her brain smoothies:  "I...started blending brains up with soup or fruit juice or chocolate milk—stuff that looked normal so that no one would freak out if they happened to open the cooler. I could fit half a brain and about a cup of soup or chocolate milk into each jar or water bottle, and so far it seemed that a jar or bottle every other day kept me from getting smelly." (p. 81)

      Click HERE to listen to a lengthy audio excerpt (scroll down a bit to find it). 
Click HERE to read a print excerpt.   

            BOOK 2:  Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues            

     The author adds a great deal more to her zombie mythology in this book, explaining that these zombies were not created by a virus like many of the zombies we find in paranormal fiction, but by a parasite that uses prion proteins as building blocks. The process appears to be a surreal combination of vampirism and demon possession. A person must be on the verge of death when he or she is gnawed by another zombie, thus releasing parasitic spores into the new zombie's body. The full explanation of the process is quite lengthy and technical in nature and comes about half-way through this book.

     The story line in book 2 follows Angel as she investigates a weird crime that gets her name plastered across the local newspapers in an extremely unflattering way. One day, after Angel brings the dead body of a security guard back to the morgue, a masked gunman ties her up and steals the body. Of course, nobody believes Angel's story, including her zombie boyfriend, Detective Marcus Ivanov, and his Uncle Pietro, the boss of the local zombie mob. Everyone still views Angel as the convicted felon/drug addict/alcoholic she was before she was zombified, so they are sure that the disappearance of the body is somehow Angel's fault. When Angel is suspended from her job, she is determined to prove her innocence by getting to the bottom of the case, and as she begins her investigation things get even more weird. When Angel traces the strange happenings back to the experimental laboratory where the dead man worked and died, she makes connections that lead back to her old nemesis, Ed Quinn, the zombie hunter who tried to kill Angel and Marcus in book 1. Let's just say that Angel ties up a lot of loose ends as she solves this case. Unfortunately, she also gets herself into a lot of dangerous trouble involving secret experiments, mysterious MIBs, and a series of double crosses and betrayals.

     This is almost a police procedural—really a PI procedural—because the story follows Angel as she collects clues, spies on her suspects, pieces together the facts of the case, and eventually outsmarts the bad guys. Angel's relationship with Marcus gets fairly bumpy in this story because Marcus keeps underestimating Angel and questioning her level of intelligence. Does Marcus learn his lesson? We'll see in future books.

     I enjoyed this book more than book 1. Now that the zombie mythology is fully delineated, many of my criticisms have been answered. Angel continues to develop as a character, becoming more independent and less fearful of the consequences of her new life. Getting an explanation of exactly how her zombiness works is as helpful to the reader as it is to Angel. Click HERE to listen to a brief audio excerpt (scroll down a bit to find it). Click HERE to read a print excerpt.

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