Kiss and kill: a review of Plague Nation

Plague NationLet me introduce you to Dana Fredsti, the creator of a smart zombie meta-fiction meets steamy gore-stained-clothes-be-damned romance called Plague Nation. It’s the sequel to Plague Town (here’s my review), which was my favorite book from last year. I thought a zombie novelization would be stupid. I was dead wrong.

Now, I love zombie movies. It’s easy to react to the horror of blood and guts when it’s splattering all over the screen. Reading about it is less visceral, in theory anyway. But Fredsti knows how to squeeze words for all their disgusting worth, and she even establishes a community with fellow film aficionados by playing off famous movies through her characters — mostly an elite class of virus-resistant fighters called the DZN, who have received a top-notch zombie education in order to do their job: picking the streets clean of flesh-hungry walkers. So they cite zombie flicks a lot. Gotta have some fun amidst all the depressing carnage, right?

Book Two is a strong continuation of what Plague Town started. Some of what originally captivated about the plot has ground away, but the emotional tension has increased. Fredsti’s writing still demands my attention, and I adore (and hate) these characters even more than before. That connection is strengthened by her personable storytelling.

The romance, which culminated in a blush-worthy sex scene last time, sputters out in chapter one — on purpose. It immediately creates new conflict and is an effective way for the story to dig its hooks into the reader. In short, hunk-of-man Gabriel is giving protagonist Ashley Parker growls instead of cuddles, curtness instead of sweetness, and it’s driving her crazy. Of course, Gabriel has his reasons — he’s one of the few victims of the zombie virus who didn’t change into a mindless walker or turn out to be a booty-kicking “wild card” like Ashley and the team. He needs a special serum to function properly or risk becoming a cannibalistic half-human. We get an ugly glimpse of what that’s like through Jake, one of the other characters focused on in this book.

Ashley and Gabriel’s relationship is only one point of interest, though, as the author opens up the love possibilities to other characters. But don’t think Plague Nation is all kiss and tell. It has plenty of killing, too — along with painful loss and nasty mutations as readers learn more about the virus that’s spreading across America and beyond.

I doubt the DZN can believably contain the virus in the third and final book, as the situation can only worsen as it expands to global territories. Fredsti’s biggest challenge is to prepare these characters with a bad-ass plan of action; after all, saving the world takes a lot of work.

New allies should help with that (and props to Fredsti for inventing one lovable acrobatic daredevil, who appears later in the book), but the enemies are multiplying, too — like the mysterious Griffin, who seems to suffer from the same problem as Gabriel but without all the fuss and high-maintenance.

It’ll be fun to see how crazy the outbreak and conspiracy gets and how the good guys cope with the crisis. They’re the core of the story — what drives it forward and keeps it fresh in between headshots and showers of red goo.

Grade: B

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