Stars: 2.5 out of 5
This review is for the ARC I have received courtesy of NetGalley.
The Undying by Ethan Reid could have been a great book. When I read the blurb, I really looked forward to diving into the book itself. I mean two young American tourists trying to survive an apocalyptic event in Paris, as our civilization falls apart? That ought to be a an interesting read, no? Especially if you add the undying (the author’s version of zombies) into the mix. I love Paris, I love disasters books and I love zombies. So this book was right up my alley.
Unfortunately, my excitement about the premise was quickly dampened by the execution. First of all, the prologue takes place months after the event, and the author tells us right there and then that only Jeanie and the baby will survive. This makes it very difficult to empathize with any characters in the book. I mean why bother caring about Ben, Zou, or Farid if you already know they won’t make it to the end? And even during the episodes when Jeanie is in serious trouble, I wasn’t worried about her, because I knew from the prologue that she would survive. And not being able to care about the characters makes for a very boring read.
The cataclysmic event itself is well described. It was scary to see the familiar topography of Paris transforming into a death-trap for its inhabitants. I also liked the progression of events and how the author slowly plunged our world into Hell. First the light go out, but there is a beautiful Aurora Borealis in the sky, and it’s New Year’s Eve, so nobody pays too much attention to the loss of power, because everyone is too busy celebrating. It’s the next morning, when the skies get shrouded with dust and rocks start falling down, that the chaos really begins. The author built the tension well, with things going progressively from bad to worse, and the appearance of the undying plunging an already scary situation into the realm of cheer terror.
And the undying deserve a special mention. Those “moribund”, which are Ethan Reid’s take on the usual zombie trope, are really scary. Unlike their more mainstream counterparts, they are fast, they are cunning, and they hunt in groups. In fact, their behavior is similar to a pack of wolves or a pride of lions. Add to that the fact that they can bend shadows around themselves for concealment and that they are very fast learners, and you have a truly terrifying enemy. Most of the memorable moments in the book are tied to the undying, one way or another. So they deserve the 2.5 stars.
Unfortunately, this building tension is constantly interrupted by Jeanie’s flashbacks to seemingly unrelated events, like the death of her father or the last conversation she had had with him. I understand the need to introduce the readers to her background, but it can be done as a paragraph or two here and there, not a whole chapter thrown in smack in the middle of the action. By the time I made it through that chapter, all the tension was gone; I didn’t care what happened to the characters anymore.
The author chooses the oddest moments to go into those flashbacks or info dumps. For example, the protagonist and her friends are in the Louvres and they are running out of time. They need to get somewhere safe and underground before the temperatures outside rise to unbearable levels. That moment is full of tension, right? Will they make it? Will the find a place to hunker down?.. Yet the author choses to spend 3 (!) chapters making Jeanie talk to people about what they think happened to cause the disaster. All I wanted to do while I was reading this, was smack the protagonist on the head and yell, “Who cares? You have to get out of here NOW, not speculate on why this happened.”
So when the time runs out and characters start to die, I didn’t feel upset or sorry for them anymore. I felt frustrated with the author, because it felt like the exposition had just been a plot device designed to get rid of some of the characters.
I also couldn’t help but feel that the ending is rushed and rather anticlimactic, like the author ran out of steam and just wanted to wrap up the story really fast.
So The Undying had sounded like a good book, but turned out a disappointment. But then again, everybody looks for something different in a book, so what I didn’t like, you might love. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this book, but ultimately it’s up to you to make your own choice.