I tend to prefer my zombies shambling. Fast or slow, no matter; it’s the survival/contagion aspect that fascinates me. How else is a hypochondriac supposed to enjoy a disease apocalypse without worrying it could become real? But Diana Rowland has created an unusual take on zombies with her “White Trash Zombie” series featuring a high school dropout who recently discovered she has an unavoidable craving for brains. While it’s definitely escapist entertainment, the unpredictable plotting and an unusual narrator elevate it above average.
Since the day Angel woke up in a hospital room with a mysterious note and a six-pack of strangely energizing smoothies, her life has undergone a complete change. A purposeless drug addict before the change, zombiism has cured her of drug cravings and mind-numbing highs. (Downside: a need for brains). A mysterious benefactor connects her with a position in the county morgue, Angel begins a new life, so to speak: a job where her skills are valued, a group of colleagues that appreciate her and–finally–a sense of self-esteem. (Upside: a steady supply of brains in the morgue).
In this installment, Angel is at the morgue musing on why the latest body smells surprisingly short of brains when a gunman enters the building. He kidnaps the stiff and leaves her holding the empty gurney. The local newspaper takes a decidedly negative slant on her performance, as well as her past history, and Angel finds her beloved job in jeopardy in an election year. At the same time, her probation agent warns her that successful completion of probation includes obtaining her G.E.D. She can’t even escape the pressure at home: still living with her alcoholic dad, she is attempting to repair their relationship as well as maintain a semblance of independence from her police officer boyfriend, Marcus. Then Marcus ups the relationship ante by taking her to meet his zombie-uncle, Pietro. Definitely enough reasons for anyone to get the blues.
Angel is the star of the story, and her first-person narrative reflects blunt-speaking tendencies, self-esteem issues and a clever sense of humor. While it might appear like Angel’s behavior is more inconsistent in this book, I think differences in reacting to challenging situations and to problem-solving reflect her attempts to interact in more mature ways. I enjoyed her her growing assertiveness, her determination and efforts at self-improvement. It’s clear that for many readers, one of the strengths of the series is witnessing Angel’s effort to pull her life together and discover her potential. Unlike many recent urban fantasy books, this one has a distinctly positive note.
Plotting is perhaps a touch more uneven than the first, attempting to build a complex web of events and motivations, and tying events from book one into this. Word of advice: so far, it isn’t a series to read out of order. I enjoyed the convolutions even if it felt a little super-villain pastiche at the time. By the end, it started to run dangerously close to that sticky urban fantasy borderland of “supernatural secret” that apparently almost everyone knows. However, I’ve peeked at the synopsis of the next book (I’m not really fussed by spoilers), so I suspect Rowland has Big Plans, so I’ll pass judgement later.
This installment also delves into the background of zombie creation and biology. Rowland has come up with one of the more inventive concepts yet (if not particularly realistic, at least it is book-plausible), and if the passages related to it felt a little bit like information-dumping, well, at least it was done well in the context of Angel’s educational background. The need for brains provides much of the humor, a clever way of pulling the reader into a sense of entertainment instead of gross-out.
All in all, it’s been a fun series so far, surprising me with its emotional range. I’ll definitely be looking to catch the next installment.