Every so often–say, after I’ve read about the latest Climate Summit–I get an urge to read about the end of the world. Zombies are a particularly solid way to end it, something like a visual disease state and an antagonistic threat all rolled up into one happy disaster. Lost Valley is apparently based on a ‘shared world,’ and the hook, at least according to Browning, is that the zombies are ‘science-based.’ Well, no, unless you also consider claims of crystals preventing influenza to be science-based. But I’m not really expecting that in a zombie book. Just don’t claim it, okay?
The set-up is a retired SEAL and his war-dog, Shrek, and one of the things that truly does set this book apart is the occasional chapter from his dog. Much like the cougar in Faith Hunter’s Skinwalker series, the dog perspective is fairly limited, and tries to stick fairly close to what an animal range of perception and thought might be. Perhaps.
Anyway, John Carver and his dog Shrek have a remote ranch in California. They occasionally visit the nearby Boy Scout camp, helping out the retired Marine who works there. Browning does a nice job of building a sense of normalcy, of giving the reader the feel of the remote California environment, the kind of life John and his dog are living, and the easy camaraderie with the camp staff. A (cute) single mom and her teenage son live nearby, and the son’s been helping John on his ranch. The director of the camp is a woman, Jen, and is off for the weekend visiting her long-time and serious boyfriend, on shore leave from the Navy.
Perspective is mostly from John’s viewpoint, although it does hop around a bit so that the reader can get the feel of looming disaster. As the story advances, it jumps to a pilot on a runway in Chicago, a father who is stranded at a Chicago baseball game, and a man doing a delivery run to a country club. As the epidemic spreads, we witness various characters become victims in the plague.
The virus spreads shockingly fast and within a week or two of discovery, it’s sweeping the nation. Those bitten or killed (when not eaten, I suppose) transform into equally hungry mindless beings, so it’s an exponential growth pattern. All is standard horror fare, until the dead start becoming a bit extra-special, including being able to crawl along ceiling and being capable of actively hunting their prey.
If one can ignore this extra-ordinary zombie-on-steroids aspect, I’d say it’s a solidly written book. The military detail feels real; clearly the author either knows or interviewed a variety of military personnel to get the diverse cross-section of armed forces personnel we meet in the course of the story. The California scrub-mountain foothills also feels quite real. There’s a few details that seems a bit unbelievable for the set-up–besides zombies, duh–(when it becomes obvious that the zombies can use brute force at the country club to break through doors and into cars, why is John allowing people to stay in tents? and why are they letting the twins stay together even after one is bit?)
Action is fast-paced and there’s a nice variety. The actual word choice and story-telling is decent. I’d say it was surprisingly well done for the genre. I was initially lured by the ‘sciencey’ angle, but that’s a total bust. There’s nothing ‘science’ about this set-up, and in this scenario, I fail to even understand how it could be science-based. Browning is telling a survival story, with military overtones in the type of people and their approach to problem-solving. That said, it’s well done and more appealing than I would have expected. Three female characters come to mind, but one is largely girl-friend role, one mother role, and one a young, sassy woman who takes a fair amount of initiative. A friend and co-worker of the mother seems to be acting with stereotypical gay behaviors. I could be wrong. I’m not even sure why it mattered. Ah, diversity. To be inclusive, or not, amIright? Especially when almost all the characters are stereotypes, except John.
So would I buy? I probably would have, if I hadn’t gotten this during my Kindle Unlimited membership, and I wouldn’t have regretted it. Just go in with normal genre expectations, and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. Just, for heaven’s sake, do NOT go on to the next book. Leave it alone.