I've been wanting to read this title for awhile. I had read good reviews for it all over the interwebs, and it just sounded like a good read, blending two pretty cool things: zombies and blogging. So, a good friend of mine from school lent it to me (back in like friggin' January or something) and I decided to *finally* get to it, seeing as school is starting up soon and I'm going to have to return it.
GUYS, why did I wait so long to read this? Seriously, it's all kinds of awesome. This review might be a bit more of a gushfest than anything, and there WILL be spoilers. Read on with caution, or just skip to the end.
The first thing I want to talk about is the plot of the novel. It's the year 2034 and it's been 20 years since the appearance of zombies. In this post-apoc world, where zombies run free, blogging has become the main and most reliable source of news, since bloggers were the first to inform people of the zombie uprising, while tv news and the newspapers tried to cover it up, or didn't believe it until it was too late. I really loved the world that Grant developed here. It's not anything entirely ground-breaking, but it was all very believable, and I liked that the news and the media (especially on the internet) have come to the forefront of people's lives. I mean, the news has always been a part of our lives, but in this zombie infested world, it's especially important. I also really liked the back-story of what caused the zombie-uprising. It's all kind of tragic ("Guys!! We found the cure for CANCER!!! ....but it turns people into soulless flesh-eating ghouls...") and also (strangely) believable.
But I haven't really gotten to the plot like I said I would. The plot of this novel follows three young adults, George (or Georgia -- named after George Romero), her adoptive brother Shaun (named after Shaun of the Dead I guess?) and their friend Buffy (nicknamed after the ass-kicking blondie from 90s tv show) as they follow a presidential candidate and document his trip across the United States. However, the trio inadvertently find themselves embroiled in a conspiracy to get rid of said candidate and to also bring about a revolution of fear.
One of my favorite things about the plot was that it didn't need the zombies to bring about action or to move things forward. They were there, and they were obviously a very real threat, but it was actually the disease/vaccine (which I can't remember the name of, unsurprisingly [knowing me]) that causes people to transform into zombies, which is mostly in the hands of humans. Actually, funny enough, it's the humans who are the real threat throughout the entire novel, even more so than the zombies. It was an interesting twist, and one I was happy for. I like zombie stories well enough, but I'm always happy when I come across a zombie story that isn't solely about survival, or about staying safe from the zombies. This IS a story about survival, but like I said, it's from the threat of people, and not the zombies themselves.
The plot itself is really engrossing. This book is 600 pages long, but I read it in two days. I probably could have done it in one, but I had things to do that kept me away from this book, which felt very unfortunate at the time, because I had a hard time tearing myself away. Part of the reason it's so engrossing is a) the world-building (which I've already mentioned before) and learning about why zombies came about, the different bloggers etc. etc.; b) the characters (which I'll get to in a moment) who are so easy to root for; I loved watching George and her team succeed, and c) THE DANGER!! This novel is fraught with peril (I feel so cheesy saying that) and lots of people DIE (characters minor and major) which brought about a lot of tension because you actually feel like *anything* can happen. And lots of things happen. A LOT.
Next thing I want to talk about is the characters. They were great. Georgia, our main character, is a truth-seeking "Newsie" (a blogger who reports solely on the news) and will dole out the truth at ANY cost. At first, I found George's obsession with the truth ... unnatural? I'm not too sure, but it's definitely unusual to meet someone who's AS honest as George is. Almost too good to be true, you know? But when you take in to consideration that George and Shaun were adopted by people who are using them solely to boost their own ratings, George's motivations for being honest to the point of bluntness is a helluva lot more understandable. She was a frosty lady (with a sensitive side, especially where Shaun is concerned), but I admired her character a lot.
Next we have Shaun, an Irwin (a blogger who goes out of his way to have zombie encounters so that he can videotape them and put them on the web for viewers) who's also quite earnest and frank like his sister, but in a much more warm and fuzzy way. George and Shaun share a very, very close bond, which is no wonder considering the world they live in and the family they grew up with. I found their relationship a little unnerving at first, and I think part of that was because I could never really discern if their bond was unvoiced romance, or if it was solely familial and platonic love. I think it was the latter to be honest, though I had my doubts at first. Either way, despite finding their closeness a little unnerving at first, I became a lot more comfortable with it and ended up finding it very touching. Shaun himself is a funny character and very friendly, which makes him easy to like.
Lastly on the roster of main characters is Buffy, a religious young woman who's a little on the ditzy side and obsessed with computers and electronics. Despite being the techie of the group, Buffy is the most creative of the three, as she's a "Fictional", a blogger who writes serial stories and poetry. Buffy broke my heart a little bit. It's discovered halfway through the novel that she actually betrayed Shaun and Georgia and Ryman (the presidential candidate) and this results in the death of Ryman's oldest daughter, as well as Buffy's. Despite knowing she betrayed everyone, I couldn't bring myself to be MAD at her. She really thought what she was doing was for the greater good, and she seemed genuinely sorry for all the harm she brought everyone. That still shouldn't excuse her, and I definitely don't condone her actions, but GOD, but couldn't I be MAD at her? And I was still SAD when she died!! So yeah, I liked Buffy, even though she was a catalyst for a lot of the events that unfolded.
Of course, there are a cast of minor characters who quite well developed as well, such as the presidential candidate Peter Ryman. I really thought that dude would end up to be some kind of bad guy because he was just so dang NICE. Like George, I found his niceness just too good to be true, but it ended up being genuine, and I was happy for it. The world needs nice people, and Ryman definitely wasn't perfect (though he was pretty close.)
The last thing I want to cover that I really liked about this novel was the gutsy stuff that Grant did. She talks about touchy subjects in this book, such as religion and animal rights (though the context of these animal rights is quite a bit different than they would be in our world), but she does so in such a way that she doesn't shy away from extreme opinions, but she doesn't paint one opinion as bad and the other good. The other BIG thing that Grant did was have not one, but TWO main characters DIE. As I mentioned above, Buffy bites the dust. I was surprised by this development, but not completely floored, because well, shit happens. (I've also read three books from The Song of Ice and Fire series in which major characters die left and right, so I think I've become a little desensitized.) But then, near the end of the novel, GEORGE DIES. *sobs* The novel is told completely from George's first-person POV, so I expected her to live. Even when she got the injection of the zombie virus right in her veins, I expected (and prayed) that some kind of miraculous event would happen to save her, because guys, SHE'S THE MAIN CHARACTER. But no. She dies, and the last few chapters are told from Shaun's first-person POV. So yeah, huge kudos to Grant for doing something so incredibly gutsy and making it *work* (even if it did break my heart -- I liked George quite a bit and it's sad that she died to bring people the truth. She *literally* told the truth at ANY cost; the ultimate cost.)
Final Verdict: So if you haven't guessed, I kind of really liked this book. The pacing was great, the world-building was original, even if the zombies are you classic flesh-eating walking undead, and the characters were really well realized and ones I admired and rooted for (even when they did kind of shitty things.) This is the kind of book that's great for people who aren't crazy about zombies, because as much as zombies are an important aspect of the novel, they aren't the dominant force of it. Hell, they're not even the real threat in this book; it's the humans who are, and I think that was a really interesting and subtle twist on Grant's part, and I loved it. Grant pulls some gutsy stuff off in this book too, which really paid off, even if it broke my heart sometimes. This may be a 600+ page book, but it reads really quickly, because it's really engrossing, and has a plot that's full of danger and the unexpected. I can't wait to get my hands on the sequel, Deadline, because I'm really interested to see what direction this story takes.