Dana Fredsti’s “Plague Town” is set in a small town in northern California and told in the first-person perspective of Ashley Parker, a 29-year-old older-chick-in-class college student. However, with any good horror fantasy story, it doesn’t take long before the town goes from sleepy to creepy as residents start contracting the mysterious Walker’s Flu, which wreaks havoc on their bodies until they drop dead momentarily before rising again as zombies.
Brains! Brains! Brains!
Unaware of any zombie apocalypse, Ashley and her younger boy-toy coed of a boyfriend go about their lives, rendezvousing for a picnic on campus, aka steamy romp in the woods complete with champagne, roast chicken, bread and brie — like that happened in college. Just as things are heating up, the two are attacked by rotting zombies and Ashley gets a hunk of her arm ripped out before passing out. When she regains consciousness, our heroine learns she’s part of a group of abnormal individuals, 0.001% of the population, immune to the zombie infection. Known as wild-cards, these folk have enhanced strength, stamina and senses. As for boy-toy fancy pants … well let’s just say he isn’t a wild-card.
With this status, Ashley and fellow wild-cards are recruited by a secretive paramilitary organization — which includes her History of Pandemics professor and her frenemy, the professor’s gorgeous T.A. (and I don’t mean T&A) — that needs her help to control the horde of zombies taking over the town. Will Ashley and her fellow wild-cards be enough to control the walking dead that are using the small town as an all-you-can-eat buffet?
The first novel in the Ashley Parker trilogy, the tale doesn’t waste time bringing the nasty, jumping out of the gate with a prologue featuring morphing zombies complete with bluish tinted skin, milky eyes, black ooze, one track minds for flesh, and blood, blood, blood! This italicized side-story is featured sporadically (I could have used more) throughout the novel to provide an inside view at the ever-increasing horde and, in a way, to humanize these rotting monsters. What would you do if your loved one turned into a zombie? Could you blow their brains out?
In addition to the wild-card take on the popular zombie genre, the book features mysterious characters and situations, including local M.D. and Walker’s Flu guru Dr. Albert, who is studying zombies and wild-cards to find a cure, and the recruitment-hungry paramilitary group. Turns out zombie outbreaks have been happening routinely throughout history with the knowledge of high level government bodies, an interesting twist for all you conspiracy lovers out there like myself.
When I was 60 pages in (the book is 350), the story was relentless with action, action, action, which is good to keep me on my toes but bad because I didn’t have a connection to the heroine yet. Bad stuff is happening to her but I don’t particularly care because I don’t know her. Her backstory was interesting — controlling ex-husband, wish for a fresh start — but definitely glossed over by the author and only referenced sporadically. This lack of character development was evident with everyone, especially other wild-cards and charging zombies being featured in cliche terms — jocks, a bitchy valley girl princess, leading man who is over-the-top Greek god hot but emotionally distant, shy-Goth chick, drunk frat boys, etc. There was also a lack of development in relationships with a definite hint of laziness — Ashley meets boy, Ashley and boy are enemies, Ashley and boy must work together but boy is emotionally distant, Ashley slowly learns she is sexually attracted to boy, they feel heat together, Ashley wins over boy. Blah.
As for Ashley, I was taken aback when she was first attacked by a zombie — when she was unaware they existed — and totally kicked ass like she’d been battling them for centuries complete with “Kill the brain. Kill the zombie.” Umm … OK? Not totally believable even by her as she thought, “I wasn’t sure why zombies weren’t outside of (my comfort zone).” There were a few other unbelievable incidents in the book, including Ashley and a fellow wild-card risking their lives to venture into unknown territory so they could save two cats, that left me unable to relate. But, hey, I’ve never been in a zombie outbreak so who knows, maybe I’d risk my life to save my aquatic frog Lenny Kravitz from being an appetizer. Stranger things have happened.
Also, too much of anything is not a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, Ashley’s snarky and wise-ass musings were funny but used to ad nauseum, especially in highly stressful situations. Furthermore, the specific guyish pop culture references she made and the detail of her 34C chest and Barbie-esque bod made me think this heroine wasn’t created for girl-power hurrah. Although, a female heroine is refreshing in dark genres whether she’s video-game stacked or soft and squishy like a jelly doughnut.
That’s not to say I didn’t like Ashley. There were times when her brutal honesty, kick-ass skills and empathy were refreshing! Badass zombie-fighting chick — sounds awesome, right?
The plot kept me reading on but, long story short, the character development was somewhat lazy and the ending was equally lazy (no spoilers) in a we-gotta-tie-loose-ends-up-quick-to-keep-this-book-short-but-with-a-cliffhanger. The story had all the elements but needed some tightening and expanding in different places.
Also, the book needed a focus. The comedy took away from the creepiness and horror (I could have used more disturbing and less snark), which is saying something for a chicken-heart like myself. With that in mind, it wasn’t funny enough to be “Shaun of the Dead”-esque so I’m not sure what it was. It definitely wasn’t sexy, as it was described on the cover, because … well I won’t spoil it but I definitely was a bit turned off by the sex scene.
Alright, I’ll stop being Negative Nelly. All in all, I enjoyed the book for what it was — a fun read. If you enjoy zombies or are a supernatural-lover but have found yourself tired of the watered down vampire genre, check out “Plague Town.” It’s a fun read when you want to escape reality … or is the world one step away from a zombie apocalypse?