Plague Nation is the second in a planned trilogy by Dana Fredsti featuring college-student-turned-zombie-killer Ashley Parker and her quest to find a cure for the undead outbreak threatening to take over first America, and then the world. Full disclosure: I was sent complimentary copies of these books in exchange for an honest review. Also relevant to know: reading Plague Town and Plague Nation (if you guessed that the third instalment will be called Plague World, cookie for you!) was my first kick at the zombie genre can.
In the previous novel, Ashley Parker was attacked and bitten by zombies when an outbreak caused by an untested flu vaccine began in her college town. Unlike most of the town’s inhabitants, Ashley learned that she was one of the rare wild cards—people who, instead of succumbing to death and zombiedom once bitten, gain superhuman senses and abilities. Along with her fellow wild cards, Ashley is recruited to help the DZN, a super-secret worldwide zombie-apocalypse-stopping organization, contain and eliminate the outbreak. While they were successful, shipments of the contaminated vaccine had already gone out and by the beginning of Plague Nation, similar outbreaks have begun in towns and cities across the United States.
The pace and death toll in this novel pick up significantly compared to the last as the stakes — and complications — grow. While the first novel was plagued (see what I did there?) with stock characters such as Strong But Brooding Male Love Interest With a Secret, Young Will Smith Who Could Never Be a Love Interest Because He’s The Comic Relief, and Bitchy Blonde Who Sacrifices Herself In The End, this one kills a number of them off and introduces unlikely allies in an avid fanboy with his own TARDIS and a hyperactive parkour master named JT.
When fire breaks out at the DZN’s facilities and a kidnapping attempt is made on the doctor who is working on a cure, Ashley and her team realize that there is more going on than meets the eye. Vignettes throughout the book reveal the existence of a mysterious and fanatically patriotic organization actively working to thwart the wild cards’ efforts and spread the virus further. Ashley and the DZN must venture into zombie-laden San Francisco in order to reach a new lab where the quest for a cure can continue in an exhausting action sequence that takes up the entire second half of the novel.
Ashley Parker as a protagonist is smart, capable, and abrasive, though if you are a cat, a child, or needy wild card Lil (winner of the Most Annoying Character I Am Supposed to Sympathize With Award), she’ll show you a strong nurturing streak as well. The reality and bleakness of the situation start to weigh on Ashley in this novel, and it helps to give her the heart I found missing through all of her lusting after team captain Gabriel in the first book. Her incessant pop culture references become the book’s signature style, and she keeps a somewhat inappropriate sense of humour that helps lighten the mood when things get a little too gruesome.
One of the elements of these books I could do without are the frequent full-stops the narration pulls to drop us into random zombie attacks on characters who generally die within three pages of their introduction. Unless all of these threads are going to come together in some spectacular way in the final novel, it’s jarring and seems to serve no purpose other than to provide more gore and twisted scenarios in a book already saturated with them.
Despite this, I found that Plague Nation improved upon its predecessor both in character development and plot, introducing enough intrigue on top of the shambling masses to capture my attention anew, and that’s not easy for a sequel to do. If you like zombies, pop culture, and Kick-Ass Heroines, then you’ll probably like Ashley Parker. If you don’t, well then, you probably won’t.
Plague Nation was released on Friday, April 26th from Titan Books.