Over the past two years, I’ve been closely watching the work of a budding new author in the horror field. Perhaps not a new author so much, but allow me to indulge the concept of a Pokemon-style “evolution”, or perhaps a superhero’s secret identity. Perhaps, like Billy Baxter or Bruce Banner, it takes a certain set of circumstances to allow Seanan McGuire to transform into Mira Grant. Whatever the case, I like the result.
Blackout is the third book in the Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant, a series set in the near future, after the 2014 “Rising” (read: Zombie Apocalypse). You can find my detailed reviews of the first and second novels here, but the short story is that they star a pair of young bloggers, adopted siblings Georgia and Shaun Mason, in their struggles to survive and expose a government conspiracy centered around, you guessed it, zombies. Oh, and they’re really, really good books. But, (FEED spoilers imminent!) George died at the end of the first book. So what is she doing in the opening of Blackout? (Yes, you’ve got to read the opening chapter to find out.)
One of the great assets that the Newsflesh trilogy has is the way that every book is a different type of story. Atop the overused backdrop of the zombie apocalypse, we have a novel about a conspiracy to sabotage a political campaign by a fanatic from the point of view of a calm, seasoned journalist; an action-packed romp against impossible odds where the villains just can’t help but to blow everything up; and now we have a story where simply surviving and living in peace requires helping genetic experiments escape from labs and uncovering the biggest government conspiracy in US history. There might be another author who’s blended zombies and one of these genres together so seamlessly, but I doubt that anyone else has done so as well, or done so three times.
Blackout takes all of the characters we’ve come to really love over the past two years- well, minus some of the ones who died- and brings them on a harrowing journey that continues to expand the universe while making an effort to answer every open question and even bring back characters that no one likes (in a good way). All five of the Masons are present here in one way or another (or more); aren’t they such a big, happy family? What with Stacey, Michael, Philip, Georgia, Georgia, Georgia, Shaun and Georgia. And no, four different versions of one of my favorite characters in fiction is not too much of a good thing. At least, except for the one who’s supposed to be complicit in blackmailing the human race. Aren’t those quirky relatives fun, though?
Blackout is what Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows should have been. We have an ensemble cast, each doing their part to obtain the group’s human goals (Alaric’s orphaned and out of reach sister from the ending of Deadline) and commercial goals (rather, survival) in whatever place makes the most sense, with new, interesting characters, wrapping up of loose plot lines, and humor along the way. And zombies. The group doesn’t stick together just to make it easier for the author to write about, nor do they disappear and leave you wondering why they were necessary in the first place. And in keeping with the theme, some of them might become zombies.
While I don’t want to, I can’t help but label Blackout and Newsflesh with a few minor nit picks. It almost feels unfair to ask for these books to be even better than they already are, but as a wise character once said, “the truth will set us free”. One criticism I have is one that Sci-Fi seems, as a real, to universally forget to address. It seems almost as though media stopped producing anything in 2012. Every time a piece of media is alluded to, they’re Pre-Rising. Yes, this includes when they turn on the radio. This trope is actually subverted at one point, though- Maggie at one point references there being thirteen A Nightmare on Elm Street films (there are nine to date). My other minor quibble is that Becks seems to have down-graded at times from a more fleshed out, likable character in Deadline to a more two-dimensional angry Irwin in Blackout. Everything she experiences in that novel points her in that direction, but it is a bit of a down grade for the leading lady of the second book.
While this is likely to be the last novel in the franchise, it does a great job of wrapping up the main story, and Mira Grant has published several short stories pertaining to the Rising, which I hope to god are eventually collected in a prequel anthology titled The Rising. Until then, these are still some of the best zombie, blogging, and several other genre novels you’re likely to find and I can’t urge reading them enough.