I was excited to read this book, because I loved the Dawn of the Living Dead and I think that George Romero pretty much invented the zombie apocalypse genre. So I was eager to start the book as soon as I got the ARC from NetGalley, but my excitement soon turned into bewilderment, the disappointment.
First of all, this book is way too long at 700 pages and it feels a lot longer when you read it. At least 250 pages could have been safely cut without loosing any plot, which says something. In all the chapters, action scenes are constantly interrupted by characters’ introspection, flashbacks, and philosophical musings. The worst offender is the scene of their “softie” recovery towards the end of the book which is interspersed verbal accounts by all characters present of how they got to that particular point in time. This makes this one scene last over 100 pages! It could have been tense and heart-pounding, or even deep and poignant, considering their mission, instead it’s a snooze fest. When we finally reached the end of that scene, I wasn’t even sure why the characters were there anymore or why I should have cared.
That’s another problem – of all the impressive cast or characters, I could maybe sorta care for about one or two, and even that is pushing it. To my growing disappointment, almost all the characters I cared about died in the early stages of the book. I would have much rather followed Jenny than Nakamura, especially considering the stupid way she died and that we had to then follow the story of the person who killed her.
The biggest problem though is that when George Romero died, somebody else had to finish the book, and the two parts do no gel well, at least in my opinion. And you can clearly see where the original book ended and the new chapters began – instead of continuing the story in its logical progression, the new author chose to jump 15 years ahead. That wouldn’t have been too bad. A lot of books use this plot device, after all. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work well here.
I was expecting at least some kind of character growth or change between the two parts of the book. After all, nobody stays the same during 15 years. Heck, I’m not the same person I was 15 years ago, and I didn’t have to live through a zombie apocalypse. But these characters, it’s like they were frozen in time for those 15 years. NOTHING changed for them. They still act the same, have the same motivations or quirks, heck, some of them are still hung up about a lover they lost 15 years ago. That’s why the two parts don’t gel for me. You tell us over a decade has past, yet you don’t SHOW us that, not with your characters.
And that’s the biggest problem of the second part of the book for me. Because of that time jump, instead of following the characters through their struggles in this brave new world past the initial days of the zombie uprising, we have to listen to them recount the experience… as a series of interviews. This is the classic mistake of tell, not show. Sure, some authors managed to use this technique brilliantly (just think of World War Z, which is nothing but interviews and verbal accounts of things that already happened), but it DOESN’T WORK here. Sure, the characters are telling these stories, but as a reader, I am not emotionally invested in them, especially considering that the sometimes horrible things they recount didn’t seem to change them at all.
So by the time I got through the interviews and the slog of a “softie” recovery scene, I wasn’t really invested in the book anymore. Why should I care about Richard and the vote for the leader of Old Muddy? I didn’t get a chance to follow the characters while they met and bonded and built that settlement, so I wasn’t emotionally invested in the stakes anymore. I finished the book, but at that point it was out of cheer stubbornness – I was 85% done and didn’t want to quit this close to the end.
To summarize, this is an over-written, disjointed and disappointing book. The only reason I gave it 2 stars instead of 1 is because there was one glorious chapter that I absolutely loved – the chapter with Greer at the trailer park in the very beginning of the book. That was scary, heart-pounding and horrible just like the best zombie books should be. Too bad that nothing that happened afterwards would even come close.