Everyone who follows this blog knows that if a book’s cover art has that distinctive blood-spatter motif, I’ll probably give it a look.
I’ve been hearing and reading about Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy since the first, Feed, came out. And due to my generally “meh” opinion on zombies, I didn’t pay all that much attention. Until last week, when a fellow librarian mentioned how much she’d enjoyed it–specifically mentioning that it’s more about media, news reporting, and conspiracy than it is about zombies.
Just goes to show how much of a difference framing makes when you’re trying to sell a book to someone. “Walking dead zombie threat oh no!” will leave me cold. However, “Massive conspiracy and indictment of mainstream media, with two great main characters…also there are some zombies” is a whole different idea.
I tend to enjoy zombie books and movies where the zombies are rather incidental. Like one recent book I loved, The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell. That’s a Southern Gothic psychological suspense novel with zombies. I’m also a big fan of The Zombie Autopsies, which is a medical thriller about investigating zombies. The Passage by Justin Cronin was also very good, as it was about conspiracies and medicine and zombies (oh, I know in the book they’re called vampires, but please–they’re zombies, for all intents and purposes).
None of the titles I’ve mentioned are horror novels. Feed and its sequels aren’t horror novels, either. They’re political thrillers. With mummies.
Oh no, wait. Zombies. Political thrillers with zombies.
The story begins in the year 2039. Zombies have been a fact of life since 2014, the year of the Rising, when the bodies of the freshly dead began to reanimate. There’s no mystery to that–zombies are created through exposure to the Kellis-Amberlee virus, created when a cure for cancer accidentally met a cure for the common cold, and then morphed into something new.
America has not fallen due to the zombie threat, merely adapted. Security has increased, the Centers for Disease Control has a lot of sway and power, and there are entire towns that have been declared lost, given over to the undead and abandoned. Being a journalist in this environment means a lot. Independent news sites and blogs are the places where people go for their news–mainstream media failed utterly to keep the public informed and safe during the Rising. In Feed, Georgia and Shaun Mason, a brother-sister news team of great regard, are chosen to follow and report on the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign trail. As the campaign goes on, attempts are made on the lives of everyone following the campaign, using zombies and the Kellis-Amberlee virus as weapons. As Georgia digs deeper into the story, she finds a web whose threads seem to lead to those in power in America–and as a journalist, she has a duty to uncover the conspiracy and let the truth be told.
If you are a horror-zombie fan, you might be a little disappointed by the Newsflesh books. Many of the negative reviews on Goodreads seem to come from readers who were expecting more of a horror novel than they got, citing specifically the lack of zombie encounters and lack of menace. At the same time, the readers who absolutely loved it tended to be those who don’t ordinarily enjoy books about zombies. I fall into the second category.
Begin with Feed, and then follow up with Deadline and Blackout. They really must be read in order. In my personal opinion, Feed is by far the strongest of the three, and if you don’t mind ambiguous endings you’d probably be happy enough with that one as a stand-alone. The ideas are great, the characters are great, the writing is snappy and funny, and the action sequences are well-paced and cinematic. I particularly enjoyed the virology background, as well as the idea that the world would go on in the face of zombie hordes.
For a taste of what awaits you in post-Rising America, take a look at this book trailer. It also includes a much more succinct and coherent summary of the story than I gave!