In May of 2010, a pen name named Mira Grant published a novel named Feed. In my Halloween video review of that novel, I commented that the Newsflesh trilogy opening was one of the better novels I have read in several years, that it had nowhere up left to go, and that the second novel, Deadline, would have no choice but to go down. I come here today to eat those words, because Deadline goes anywhere but down hill.
The world of Feed and Deadline is that of the zombie apocalypse after it has ended. You know how the entire way that we interacted with one another and traveled changed after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001? The way that real world 2005 might have been an interesting setting for a thriller written in the 1990s, predicting the attacks as a work of fiction? Take those changes, and amplify them. Amplify, yes, like Feed‘s Kellis-Amberlee virus- that is to say, make them into a zombie. Change the way we travel, change the way news works, change the way we conduct ourselves and interact with one another.
In Feed, the protagonists, including Georgia Mason (named for George Romero) and her brother Shaun, find their careers catapulted forward as they follow presidential candidate Peter Ryman- and subsequently find their lives in shambles as Georgia is among those killed by terrorist acts perpetrated by a sinister conspiracy that seems to lead straight to the Center for Disease Control, the most powerful organization in America.
Deadline picks up that story a year later. Shaun Mason, now sole owner and leader of “After the End Times”, has found no more leads, but he hasn’t forgotten what cost his adopted sister- companion, best friend, and possibly lover- her life. After a start in the field that hearkens back to the first volume, the new team- both similar and different from the old team in just the way a sequel’s cast should be- finds themselves thrown head first into the plot. The opening Act ends with Oakland, California going up in a column of fire, for no reason other than to kill Shaun and his team- or so it seems, as the real reason is just that much more cold-blooded.
Perhaps because, like Feed, it is told in the first person, Deadline is a very character driven story. The story is told from the perspective of a changed Shaun Mason- one who is less interested in chasing zombies down on the field than he is having conversations with his dead sister. This doesn’t come across as weird as you think- Mira Grant’s ability to break down and truly express the Masons is ultimate, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a psychotic break that comes across as more sane than this one.
Without Georgia’s presence in person, however, Shaun has to interact with a wider cast of relevant characters than were ever really necessary in Feed. Becks, his replacement as resident Irwin, who also manages to wear makeup and all that stuff, Alaric, resident not-yet-certified Newsie and Maggie, the Fictional who was a friend of Buffy’s and really, doesn’t that tell you all you need to know about her? Mahir from Feed returns, as do a handful of others and several more new faces.
All of these characters are fleshed out with the fullest. That’s not to say every character is the main character, but even characters who were created just to die in this novel continue to be felt. They all have a presence; not in the way Georgia does, mind (not all of us can be Obi-Wan Kenobi) but they continue to be relevant and they’re more than red shirts.
This team of bloggers- not to mention a former lab rat who was sent to her death, and a number of sources that help them as any news team attempting to attack the top levels of a government agency is bound to have, spend the novel being chased, having zombies sicked on them, having guns pointed at them (but not actually being shot at, this time), having sex (in a non-explicit way), ordering takeout, and surviving the second zombie apocalypse. You know, all in a day’s work. The takeout does sound really weird in that list, but then again, this is the 2000s, and I think most conspiracies, plots and insurgencies happen with takeout involved. This adds a touch of realism to the novel and gives us much-needed breaks in the action. It also gives me a place to put the book down and go to sleep after I accidentally stay up until 4 in the morning reading about the aforementioned zombie chases and what happens afterward. Besides, as a blogger of sorts myself, I can honestly say that if I was involved in a world-changing investigation and kept narrowly escaping death and zombification, there would be a lot of takeout involved.
The writing is, once again, phenomenal. Even though the protagonist is a man, there’s something about the way the characters act and think, and their descriptions, that really stands out as this novel being written by a woman. I love me some Stephen King and Thomas Harris, but there’s something about the description of “the-sweet-salt-sex smell of her” that really stands out against my usual stable of horror authors. You don’t get, say, the cognitive analysis of survivor’s lust that Michael Stackpole gives in Star Wars: Wedge’s Gamble, but you still get the emotional results that come from such a scenario. I could nit-pick this style to death, but taking a wider view, I did like the minority take on things, and the book was still extremely detailed.
Those of you who’ve read Feed will be happy to hear that the chapter-by-chapter blog posts return. For those of you who haven’t, think of it as similar to the mood-setters that Stephen King likes to use between chapters, except featuring the writing of the characters rather than a blend of that and samples purchased from the real world. They exist to set the mood, as well as providing some of the blog updates that most male authors I can think of would have included as part of the chapter. In fact, this approach to the chapters makes them flow so fluidly that it’s rather abrupt when things such as a page-long email are thrown into the story. Normally, that would seem like a rather standard thing, but here, it’s relatively choppy. I can’t tell whether to call that a minor complaint or the exception to a compliment- it’s like an incredibly realistic looking movie with dragons in it- the dragons don’t look as good as the rest of the movie, but it probably wouldn’t help the movie to make it look more like the dragons or to take the dragons out. There’s a bit of imperfection required in any art, just like there’s imperfections in any gem that allow it to be broken down and distributed.
I’ve largely avoided plot details and spoilers in this review, which has prevented me from mentioning things like the foreshadowing, which was seamlessly woven into the story in a manner that makes an experienced reviewer like myself curse my inability to expect certain developments and see them coming, while a more casual reviewer might simply say, “Well, that wasn’t completely out of the blue. I had some information with which to accept it”. For a somewhat more in-depth look at this book, possibly with some spoilers, wait on for my video review. I can guarantee I’ll enjoy it, and I think you will, too.
As for this review, though, pick up this book if you’re old enough to handle characters swearing and acting like adults in your novels, whether you like zombies or not. If you ever read the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, but want something a little more adult and with a little bit more on the line, pick up Deadline. I recommend you pick up Feed first, though- it’s not a requirement, but why watch The Empire Strikes Back without having watched Star Wars when you can watch both?