This book is a classic case of a blurb not giving away the premise of the story. A good thing in that it made a sale, and in that it made me read something outside of what I’d normally go for. However, (and this isn’t a spoiler as it becomes pretty obvious in the first few pages) it turned out to be a zombie apocalypse book, full of gore and blood and ripping flesh, and that immediately made me uneasy. It’s just really not my style. I like to relax when I’m reading, and there’s only so much relaxing I can do when reading about somebody’s intestines being devoured.
One thing you should know about me, however, is that I HATE to put a book down, especially one bought with my hard-earned cash. “The most original thriller you will read this year” the front cover promises. A zombie apocalypse book, still being completely original? It was worth trying out. And I’m partially glad I stuck with it.
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.
The nice thing about this book is that it balances gore and horrific scenes – let’s not beat about the bush here – with real sentiment and warmth. The protagonist, Melanie, a little girl who is inflicted with a parasite that turns people into flesh-eating monsters, is such a wonderful character. She is, unknowingly at first, a test subject in a classroom full of infected children, there to inform scientists and take part in invasive experiments in the quest for a cure. She doesn’t know what she is – all she knows is what she wants to do when she gets out of school. And one of those things is to live with her teacher, Miss Justineau, whom Melanie loves almost to the point of obsession.
Miss Justineau knows what the children are, and has a dark past which affects how she sees and interacts with her children. She can’t be as cold-hearted as most of the other scientists and staff on the military base, because she teaches and looks after the children on a daily basis and forms relationships with them. Miss Justineau captures the readers’ heart just like she captures Melanie. This sweet bond between the two of them is a nice salve against the brutality of the rest of the narrative.
This book did follow most of the clichés of a zombie story/horror film – a group of very different people forming an unlikely alliance in the face of death and danger, each performing a stock role such as the Hero, the Coward, the Mother, the Cold-hearted Cynic, the Vulnerable Child. And without giving too much away, the outcomes were really quite predictable, except for the very end, which I actually found quite good.
The action moved a good pace, the dialogue engaging and often funny, and overall it is good quality writing. It’s just not my kind of subject matter.
If you love your 28 Days Later and other such types, you will absolutely love this book. As someone who winces at violence, it was a little too unpleasant for me. But, each to their own! I’m glad I gave it a try.