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Thursday, May 17, 2012


Author: Dana Fredsti
Plot Type: Urban Fantasy (UF), Zombie Apocalypse
Ratings: Violence5; Sensuality3; Humor3
Publisher and Titles: Titan
        Plague Town (4/2012)
        Plague Nation (4/2014)
        Plague World (8/2014) (FINAL—I think)

     This post was revised and updated on 9/15/14 to include a review of Plague World, the third and FINAL novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two novels.    

           NOVEL 3:  Plague World            
     In the previous book, enemy soldiers kidnapped Dr. Albert and Gabriel, so in this book the wildcard team tries to get them back. Unfortunately, someone is leaking logistical information to the enemy, resulting in wildcard deaths, helicopter crashes, and more kidnappings. Naturally, everyone is suspicious of Griffin, the new wildcard who joined the team near the end of the previous book. In this book, Grif acts like a sexist jerk, making crude passes at Ash and refusing to leave her alone. But Grif also does a few nice things, so is he a spy?  If not, then who is? You won't learn the truth until the very end of the book.

     Like the previous two novels in this series, Plague World consists of a repetitious series of zombie-slashing battles and black ops shoot-outs that hang on a very thin plot structure. In fact, the whole book can be summed up in one short sentence: The wild card team fights zombies and enemy soldiers as they attempt to rescue Dr. Albert and Gabriel. Naturally, you can expect that the team will lose some members along the way.

     Even though this is the third book in the series, the characters are still cardboard cut-outs, even the heroine. There is a shallow sub-plot involving Lil and her psychosis, but it doesn't amount to much. And now for the villain: When we finally meet him, the only interesting thing about him is his unexpected identity. He is such a one-note psychotic stereotype that his character is a predictable cliché. One of his 
cohortsa "crazy-eyed" female politician bears a striking resemblance to a real-life person who was on an infamous cover of Time magazine in August 2011. (You can find it by googling "crazy eyes politician." 

     Warning, small spoiler ahead: The most interesting characters are members of a motorcycle club (not a "gang," they insist) who show up in a deus ex machina manner to save the day. They are an entertainingly quirky bunch, and they add some welcome comic relief as they slash zombies, outwit the enemy soldiers,l and blow things up. End of spoiler.

     The narrative structure is the same as in the previous book: a first-person narration by Ashley that is interrupted by a scattering of italicized sections describing incidents from around the world in which people meet and are immediately eaten by zombies. The victims range widely in their locations, social classes, and economic levelsfrom ordinary people to political, business, and religious leaders, including an African warlord and the Pope himself. These sections basically alternate between two story lines: 1. The victims are minding their own business when they are overrun by hunger-crazed zombies. 2. Someone is sick with the "flu," then dies, comes back to undead life, and lunches on near-by friends or associates.

     In general, this has been a disappointing series. It's like swallowing a spoonful of hot sauce instead of slathering that sauce on some juicy ribs. You get a bit of heat, but no flavor or texture, which makes for a rather uninspired, insufficient meal. If you love non-stop slice-and-dice zombie action, you might enjoy this book, but if you prefer nuanced characters and a complex plot, this one isn't for you. 

     This is a rewrite of the author's previous book entitled Ashley Drake, Zombie Hunter. On her web site, Fredsti states, "Plague Town will be a revised and updated version [with] a lot of new material and a slightly older heroine." You won't find much that's new or inventive in this typical zombie apocalypse tale, although it is entertaining. The outbreak is caused in the usual manner by science gone awry. Also, as usual, some people (one in every 10,000) are immune to the virus. The series follows the zombie outbreak as it begins in an isolated college town in northern California and gradually spreads throughout the U.S. and then the worldThe government has a secret zombie squad that calls itself the Dolofónoi tou Zontanoús Nekroús (aka DZN), which, loosely translated, means killers of the living deador as their wise-cracking members like to call it, Delta Zeta Nu.

     The series heroine is Ashley Drake, a college student in her late twenties who is bitten by a zombie while on a woodsy picnic with her boyfriend and discovers that she is a wild carda person who is immune to the zombie virus. The army recruits her and other wild cards to fight the zombies because as a result of their initial infection and recovery they heal quickly and have super, they can't become infected by the zombies. They can, however, be killed if they are injured severely enough. Ashley's love interest is the handsome Gabriel, whom she meets when he assists in (ironically) a class called "Pandemics Throughout History." Gabriel later turns up as the trainer and leader of the wild card team. Gabriel is not a wild card, but he's not exactly human either.

            NOVEL 1:  Plague Town             
     As the story opens, Ashley is in the last stages of recovery from a double whammy: food poisoning and a bout of Walker's flu, which has hit the campus hard in the past week or so. Early on, before knowledge of the zombie plague is known by the general public, Ashley and her boyfriend go on a fatal (for him) picnic, where they are attacked by zombies. As Ashley recovers from her wounds, she is informed of her immunity to the virus and is invited to join the wild cards. The plot follows Ashley and her teammates as they fight one repetitious zombie battle after another, cutting and slashing and shooting while they dodge the usual blood splatters, gory chunks, and brain bits. 

     Ashley is a typical smart-mouthed, feisty heroine right out of any urban fantasy novel you've ever read, and so are her teammates. They banter back and forth incessantly, trading quips that are loaded (maybe overloaded) with references to every geeky movie and zombie film that you can think of from the past few decades. At one point, Ashley even flashes the Vulcan salute. The team members include the usual stereotypes: the street kid, the African American hunk, the older man, the hostile socialite, and the shy girl. 

     The plot has a few rough spots, but in general it follows the usual zombie novel format: from first outbreak to military intervention to immune survivors to the inevitable, unstoppable spread of the virus—all punctuated by a series of interchangeable zombie battles. The most obvious plot glitch occurs near the end when a character turns up to save the day with a backpack full of special zombie-killing darts that he could not logically have in his possession because he was not with the wild card team when the darts were distributed. Oops!

     If you are obsessed with zombie fiction, you might enjoy this series, but if you're looking for something new and inventive, this one's not for you.  

            NOVEL 2:  Plague Nation             

     You can trace the action in this series through the titles. The first book deals with a zombie outbreak in an isolated Northern California college town. In the second book, we watch as the zombie plague spreads from coast to coast, and in the third book we see it jump the ocean to Europe. Unfortunately, the first two books consist of one identical slice-and-dice zombie battle after another. Plot development and characterization are overshadowed by the carnage, slaughter, and lame nerd-movie banter that monopolize most of the scenes. 

     The conflict in Plague Nation begins about a third of the way into the book when arsonists set fire to and destroy the research laboratory in which members of the shadowy Dolofónoi tou Zontanoús Nekroús (DZN) are trying to find an antidote to the virus that started the zombie outbreak. The arsonists also attempt to kidnap Dr. Albert, the crackpot physician who developed the original plague virus and disseminated it as a flu vaccine without testing it out first.  Now, zombies are being created both by the virus in the vaccine and by bites from other zombies. The exponential growth of the zombie population is leading to total devastation across the country. Yes, folks, the zombie apocalypse is here. 

     Alternating with zombie-killing action scenes are brief, italicized sections set in various American cities. Most of these involve an innocent human wandering into a horde of zombies and learning firsthand exactly what a zombie can do with just one bite. There are also a few italicized sections written from the point of view of the evil kingpinthe major series villainwho is determined to get hold of Dr. Albert and Gabriel, Ashley's boyfriend. The top bad guy appears to be one of those stereotypical power-mad villains who sees personal opportunity in the madness of the zombie plague. At one point, we get a single clue that this villain has some past connectiona bad connectionwith Ashley. Based on what I've read in the first two books, my guess is that Ashley's ex-husband is involved, but I'm basing that only on a gut feeling because there is no real evidence to back that up.

     The main story line (which takes up the final third of the book) follows Ashley and her fellow wild cards (who are all immune to the virus) as they head to San Francisco to another DZN facility so that Dr. Albert can continue his work on the antidote. It is at this point that we first meet the unnamed villain, who muses about how much he loves his country while he carries out his plans to sabotage the wild-card team and anyone else who gets in his way. The team members spend most of their time battling zombies and losing friends and allies, both from zombie bites and from gunshots from the kingpin's vicious black-ops snipers.   

     The thin characterization levels of book 1 do not get any deeper in book 2. Each character pretty much stays the sameno real growth or development, but who can really tell because we never get to look beneath the surface of any character. We get hints of the past history between Nathaniel Smith and Professor Simone Fraser, but no follow-up. We learn that Lil has some mental health problems, but no back story or details, except that she has a slightly abnormal love for animalsbut why?

     The "romance" between Ashley and Gabriel is almost nonexistent, except in Ashley's mind and in one or two non-detailed scenes in which they spend the night together. Except for their dialogue about Gabriel's scary physical condition, they never really have a conversation and are rarely alone, so I'm not sure what is sustaining Ashley's romantic feelings. Regarding poor Gabriel's physical condition: He is a "half-deader," which means that after he was bitten he didn't become a rotting, mindless zombie like most people, but he's not completely immune like the wild cards either. Instead, if Gabriel doesn't get regular doses of Dr. Albert's special antiserum, he will develop an insatiable appetite for living human flesh. In essence, he would turn into a very lethal humanoid zombie because he will maintain all of the strength, intelligence, and warrior skills that he has as a human, but he will also be driven to kill people to sate his endless appetite for human flesh. Needless to say, this puts quite a crimp in Gabriel's plans for the future.   

     Towards the end, we meet three new characters: two new young, handsome males and one femaleDr. Albert's research colleague. I'm guessing that one or both of the males will make a play for Ashley. Actually, we meet one of the men, Griffin (aka Griff, aka Typhoid Mary) in a few of the italicized sections, and we learn that he is definitely not a normal human and that he has a nefarious connection with the primary villain.

     I love zombie fiction, but I don't love pages and pages and pages of repetitious zombie fights. There are a limited number of ways and words to describe blood-and-guts butchery, gross disembowelment, and gristly decapitation, and I think that Fredsti has used them all up by now (especially the phrase "slice and dice"). I'd love to see less gore and more examination of the personalities of the survivorsthe wild cards, the half-deaders, and the few normal humans, each of whom has a different role to play in this post-apocalyptic world. That's what makes The Walking Dead such a success in all its forms: TV show, print novels, and graphic novels. That series is a treasure chest of nuanced characters, each adapting to the horrific new zombie-infested world in wildly varying ways. Sure, they have to fight the zombies, but they also have to get along together under a whole new set of circumstances. Maybe if Fredsti added a few down-time, non-zombie scenes and then cut way back on the wildcards' lame repartee with the non-stop nerdy movie quotes, we'd get a chance to see what really makes these characters tick.    

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