I blame it on Trudi.
I started off rather indifferently, forcing myself through the opening scene of a troop of young recruits heading into battle against the living dead, otherwise known as the Inferi Scrouge. It’s a powerful visual image (which is why it is used in combat movies) but there isn’t enough emotional investment, and when next scene opens a year later, it causes mental whiplash. Maria, the lead we followed into combat, is waking up in bed with one of the commanders of the assault. The cheerful domesticity is no doubt meant to contrast with the earlier bloody battle, as well as a set point for ‘happy’ against the troubles to come (standard in the disaster genre). As an aside, Maria comes from a Dominican/Puerto Rican heritage which seems to not matter at all for the plot. Kudos, Frater.
As the story progressed, I was thankful someone seems to have hired a fabulous editor, as the glaring immaturity of the writing in her “As the World Dies” series was a serious barrier to enjoyment. However, while her writing has greatly improved, some Fraterisms still snuck through:
–“The large, long rectangular guns perched on the city wall were boxy in appearance due to the many barrels packed on top of each other.”
–“Blood, bone and viscera poured onto the dry soil.”
–“Blackness surged up to claim her, and she fought not to drown in it. Pulling herself onto her elbows, her body felt numb and her helmet was gone.”
–“A smile flitted across his lips.”
–“Glancing back, she saw Dwayne heading in the opposite direction.”
I kind of liked it, though–my eyes haven’t gotten enough exercise lately and needed some rolling action. Frater’s still on a mission to avoid the word ‘said’ during dialogue, no matter how convoluted the result. In chapter one, for instance, Maria and the Commander muttered, yawned, answered, teased, promised, vowed, sighed, reminded, exhaled, protested, decided, and whispered. It feels forced enough that I find myself longing Charlie Huston’s style in Joe Pitt, notable for a lack of dialogue markers.
Chapter one didn’t pull me in either; it mostly provided personal events in the past year while building a romance worthy twu luv. Elements of a bossy family, infertility issues, and keeping the relationship secret all began to sound a lot more like modern chick-lit than I hope for with my zombie books, but Trudi suggested perseverance. Of course, she was right.
The story changed again, becoming a transformative, soldier-team-against-all-odds with a zombie twist I absolutely did not see coming. Frater deserves applause just for that idea. The story had me interested until halfway through (literally, per Kindle) where it transformed again, turning into a conspiracy story. While the conspiracy was mildly interesting, the feeling that Frater might have over-reached herself started to nag. It solidified as the conspiracy became more complicated: MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW (skip to the next paragraph): [Super intelligent zombies? A shadowy power grab? Virus manipulation? Aliens?? Optometrist stat! I pulled an eye muscle].
Too much, too much. Frater isn’t China Mieville and she brought in more concepts than she could adequately deal with.
In regards to world building, I remained annoyed with the advanced technology civilization encountering the zombie apocalypse. There’s some things I’m able to overlook, but when Frater drew attention to the technology or societal problems like electrical shortages, I was drawn out of the story and into the logistical puzzle of the society. For instance, why would you train your soldiers using holographic simulations when there isn’t enough power? Or run trains at all? Ultimately, the society just didn’t make sense to me and it started to feel like it was created strictly as a backdrop for plot points. Still, damn if Frater didn’t grab me with her zombie plot twist and leave my technological and societal issues in the dust, at least for a little while.
However, one remarkable idea and interest in half a book with noticeable world and language issues isn’t enough to push that third star to shine. Two and a half stars.
Spoilery thoughts for those who wish to analyze/discuss:
1) The futuristic technology was poorly done. I suppose she felt she needed some device so inside people could communicate with outside people, thus sustaining her love story.
2) The historical timeline was odd–if you have a society that can build a monorail in a mountain valley, why aren’t they devoting those resources to the zombie apocalypse? You can build a 12 foot wall, farms, ranches and aquifers, but not secure it adequately or have back-up plans? Is Frater aware it takes more than 6 months to build a subway?
4) Which leads me to the doomsday cult–an interesting idea in the zombie apocalypse. It didn’t go far enough, so it ended up feeling like a deus ex machina for why the wall came down and the Scourge was able to enter. I was also puzzled as to why this remained a community puzzle–the government didn’t want to blame it on terrorists? Or the terrorists didn’t claim the destruction? I fully expected the cult to pop up again–maybe they should have been collaborating with the zombies. Now that would have been interesting.
5) The intelligent zombies controlling the Scrouge. At this point, narrative became a little ridiculous, and Frater had to quickly invent new names to help us differentiate all the different types of zombies. Again, kind of an interesting idea if zombism is based on virus mutation. But because what Frater was really focused on was the protagonist survival/love story, it didn’t go very far.
6) A doctor that throughout the story has been extremely loyal to the research cause turns out to have botched the research by ‘sneaking in’ the original virus. actions again–I didn’t believe it from one of the few carefully created characters.
There you have it. Riddled with world inconsistencies and a plot that couldn’t manage the many threads of survival, conspiracy, transformation and love story, it just wasn’t as satisfying as the potential.