My review for the first in this series was a little sloppy, so I'm going to try to tighten things up, partially to avoid the spoilers inherent in reviewing the second in a series, and partially because I missed out saying some things about the Newsflesh world.
This series takes place about a generation after a zombie apocalypse brought on by genetically engineered cures for the common cold and cancer meeting up and having a very serious unintended consequence. I don't even play a scientist on tv, but I thought the way the pathogen was described worked. It's a little like this horror show that exists in the natural world today
. Upshot of the article: a fungus invades the brains of ants, somehow forcing the ants to climb up branches, where they clamp on and have fungus shoot out of their heads, a la Alien.
So, society is understandably twitchy and messed up after such a cataclysm. On a nuts and bolts level, I have some serious quibbles with this world. I work in the trades, and when Shaun says something offhand about how everyone orders their groceries these days, I think, yes, and who delivers them? Just today, I was in an upper middle class neighborhood looking at a client's house, and the parking was tight because of all the various service vehicles on the street. Yes, a community can moat up, but it takes an entire other community to keep that moat in place, and I just have some questions about how that exactly works here, even though I admit that this sort of niggling question isn't really in the purview of this story. This world is made up of a lot of people hiding in their houses - this is a world of terror
- not to put too reductive a read on it, this is a 9/11 world, where politics is terror and vice versa. Leaving aside my societal quibbles, I thought the questionings about a society based primarily on terror here were subtle and worthwhile.
However, first person narratives live and die for me in the strength of the main character, and Shaun is no Georgia from the first book. It's not even so much that he's an asshole - which he is, with bells on - it's just that I didn't buy his grief mechanism or his particular flavor of insanity. I almost want to say it's too literary an insanity, but I'm not sure that that is exactly what I mean. I guess I just mean that I know grief, and while parts of his grief rang true for me - the anger, the violence - other parts were too...coherent? convenient to the plot? to pass my smell test. But grief is personal, so maybe this will work for others; I'm not trying to extrapolate my experience, just relate it.
And despite my problems with Shaun the narrator, I thought the secondary characters were much better drawn in this book. In Feed
, we spent a lot of time on secondaries that I also didn't buy - the Senator, the parents Mason, even Buffy - but here Mahir, Becks and Maggie (is it Maggie?) were given room to be people. The plotting is much less straightforward, which is pretty classic second book - I'm sure the second Scream film could fill you in on the rules for sequels - and while I appreciate the coming armageddon, the way that armageddon is relayed by a really bloodless (heh) third party experience is a little wan. The way the two intrusions into the CDC were nearly identical in terms of concrete action was a little lame too, though the opening bit with Dr. Kelly and the zombie swarm was a well-written action sequence.
If you didn't like the first book, this is not going to change your mind. Even though these characters cover a lot of ground, Grant's skills in the visceral thrills department have never been strong, which may or may not be a stylistic choice. There's an almost numbing repetition of blood testing sequences - characters slap their hands on the pad roughly one thousand times and then watch the lights stabilize to green - but I think this might be pointed - the concrete effects of a fear state. (Actually, I kind of want Bird Brian to read these, what with all the government conspiracies and medicine. ) So, fun books, maybe not especially deep, but certainly perfect for sitting on the back porch in the sun.