Thursday, 13 October 2011

‘Fighting to Survive’ – Rhiannon Frater (Tor)

It was back in August that I picked up Rhiannon Frater’s ‘The First Days’, a tale of two women fighting to survive the early days of a worldwide zombie uprising. Yep, the dead are walking once again and no-one wants to be on the menu, not surprising really! You can read the full review Here or you can read the last couple of paragraphs that went a little something like this...

The only bit that really didn’t work for me were the constant references to George Romero films made by Jenni over the course of the book. Again, I totally agree with her sentiments (I am not going to a mall in the event of a zombie uprising) but did she have to keep saying the same thing over and over again? It just got tired as did Juan’s moaning about the zombies being able to run. If you’re moaning about it then you obviously don’t feel the need to deal with it do you...?

These were relatively small complaints though when placed against a book that does a superb job of detailing people’s reactions, and what they find themselves capable of, when zombies quite literally land on their doorstep. I’m there for the next book, really looking forward to it!

What we are looking at then is a book that left me with a few small misgivings but also a book that gave me a number of reasons to come back and pick up the sequel... and here I am! You won’t be able to pick up the Tor edition, of ‘Fighting to Survive’, until next month but there are zombies and its Halloween month so I thought an early review wouldn’t be out of place here. Not only that but the series was originally self published so the odds are that you may have even read the book already.
As it turned out, I found myself having the same kind of issues with ‘Fighting to Survive’ that cropped up in ‘The First Days’ (and a couple more) but that didn’t stop this book being another entertaining read.

Ashley Oaks fort is as secure as it’s ever going to be. The zombies can’t get in but all that means is that other problems are stepping up to take priority... As the number of survivors increase, food supplies and safe shelter are rapidly running out. The only option left is to break into the recently renovated hotel but who knows how many zombies are trapped inside? There’s only one way to find out and it’s going to involve a battle the likes of which hasn’t been since since the outbreak kicked off.
If that wasn’t enough, people have got problems that don’t necessarily involve the zombies that shamble outside the walls. The Mayor has a heart problem, Jenni’s sanity begins to crumble again, Juan is accused of murder and Katie is viciously assaulted. And all that is before people realise that covetous eyes are watching the fort from outside...

‘Fighting to Survive’ has a lot going for it but, at the same time, I couldn’t help but think ‘is this it?’ This was especially so after the great time I had reading ‘The First Days’. I’m still looking forward to the final installment, just perhaps not as much as I was previously.

Don’t get me wrong, Rhiannon Frater still manages to do exactly what it was that made ‘The First Days’ such an entertaining read. Frater takes you into the heads of Katie and Jenni, even more than she did last time round, with new opportunities for character development all being taken advantage of. This is seen most prominently in the case of Jenni who never had the chance to deal with the issue of her abusive husband (and the death of her family) in the first book, to be fair there was a horde of the living dead that took priority. ‘Fighting to Survive’ revisits these issues and not only leaves us in no doubt as to the demons that Jenni faces but raises compelling questions as to whether she will beat them. The outcome may not be much of a surprise but it’s the journey getting there that counts.

Frater also shows us that she has lost none of her touch in terms of pitting desperate survivors against a horde of the undead. Again, the battle for the hotel is a vicious affair that never lets up and springs a few surprises along the way. These pages made for very easy turning.
Unfortunately, as great as these scenes are, Frater does have an unfortunate habit of signposting impending death for supporting characters. It got to the point where you could tell that a supporting member of the cast was going to die... just because a main character spoke to them. This approach took tension out of moments and that didn’t need to happen.

There is a lot to recommend ‘Fighting to Survive’ but, at the same time, it felt like things were a bit too safe to make for really gripping reading. To be blunt, after clearing out the hotel the fort is just too safe; zombies cannot get in and survivors are checked for bites etc before they can be allowed to stay. There was never any danger of things getting beyond the control of the survivors in the fort; even the mysterious vigilante only took out the bad guys and stayed silent the rest of the time. I don’t want to give away too much about the bandit threat but if the zombies couldn’t get in...

This lack of any credible threat not only slowed the book right down but also proved to be a prelude to what is actually going to be a pretty big threat in the concluding volume. While I can appreciate this approach (and it will make more sense when the story is complete) it did leave ‘Fighting to Survive’ feeling a little flat in the meantime. I’m sure the story will pick up but the reader is essentially left waiting for an event that you won’t see until April next year. I can wait but that’s almost besides the point.

‘Fighting to Survive’ does everything that ‘The First Days’ did so well but suffers a little bit too much from ‘middle book syndrome’ to be truly effective. I’ll still be around for the conclusion though.

Eight out of Ten

1 comment:

Andra said...

I didn't see the signposting of the supporting character's deaths...just that you would get to know someone just to have your heart ripped out of your chest when your "new friend"'s throat was ripped out a chapter