Friday, 20 April 2012

‘Plague Town’ – Dana Fredsti (Titan Books)

This is going to be a much shorter review, than normal, as I’ve spent a large chunk of today sorting out bits of paperwork for the new job that I’ll be starting next Tuesday. Go me :o)

Do you remember the days when monsters used to be, well… you know… scary? I do. Werewolves used to prowl deserted moors and prey on hapless hitchhikers. Vampires used to lurk in the dark and climb through your bedroom window if you were stupid enough to leave it open. Other monsters quietly got on with doing what they did best, usually at a great cost in human life…
Then Urban Fantasy came along and everything changed. The werewolves came off the moors and became night-club bouncers for clubs owned by the vampires. Monsters still got on with what they did best but it all was tempered by deep and meaningful conversations with heroines looking for the humanity in creatures that hadn’t been human for an awfully long time. Thanks a lot Urban Fantasy, thanks for making vampires and werewolves (and even some demons) far less scary than they’ve ever been.

But that’s ok though. I mean, we’ve still got zombies right? The living dead, creatures that would rather eat the heroine than talk with her. There was still one last bastion of ‘monsterhood’ that Urban Fantasy couldn’t storm… could it? Well, I didn’t think so until a copy of ‘Plague Town’ arrived in the post. Look at that cover, have a read of the blurb in a paragraph's time. It was a long siege but Urban Fantasy won through in the end.
Of course I was going to read ‘Plague Town’ though, it promised to be full of zombies so how could I not? I picked up the book with a heavy heart though, not really that keen to see how Urban Fantasy treated my favourite monsters. Turns out that I needn’t have worried all that much. There’s a lot to ‘Plague Town’ that feels familiar but there’s a lot that’s different at the same time.

The people of Redwood Grove are dying of the flu but they’re not staying dead for long though… Student Ashley Parker finds herself on the wrong end of a zombie outbreak but also finds herself in a unique position, one that will let her fight back.
It turns out that Ashley is a ‘Wild Card’, someone who is not only immune to a zombie’s bite but can also heal from such a bite incredibly quickly. Recruited by an organisation that deals with this specific kind of threat, Ashley now has the chance to fight back. Will her small team of fellow ‘Wild Cards’ be enough to turn the tide though? Time is running out…

‘Plague Town’ is a bit of an odd one, at least it was for me. What I found difficult to get my head around will probably be what attracts a lot of people to the series. I’ll certainly be checking out the next book at least.

You see, ‘Plague Town’ is very much a ‘by the numbers’ Urban Fantasy. Take one feisty heroine with issues, open her eyes up to a world that she never knew existed and add a love interest that is destined to be a bumpy ride (in more ways than one) and what have you got? You’ve got ‘Plague Town’ of course but you’ve also got any number of other books doing exactly the same thing. It’s not original, not any more, not when the core tropes are just being rolled out instead of having a little care and attention paid to them. Actually that’s not quite true here.  The love interest does feel a little contrived but Fredsti does give you something new to ponder and that was cool as far as I was concerned.

I kept reading though, as I really will finish a book if it has zombies in it, and I’m glad that I did.

‘Plague Town’ may be ‘by the numbers Urban Fantasy’ in many ways but it redeems itself by also being a very nasty little horror novel at the same time. You may know what’s coming but Fredsti plays on your nerves and still manages to make you jump, sending her characters down some dark alleyways where anything could happen. There are plenty of ‘zombie surprises’ but there’s also a very interesting spin on the zombie epidemic that bodes well for future instalments (although if it’s used to solve the ‘love interest problem’ then I don’t know what I’ll do…) As it is, it’s certainly a moment that puts you right in the middle of the zombie apocalypse and shows you what people are capable of when the chips are down. If that wasn’t enough, Fredsti shows that she has absolutely no problems putting her readers right in the middle of a zombie swarm and leaving them to it. There’s a real surge of adrenaline in these sequences that makes you feel like you’re there experiencing it for real.

‘Plague Town’ is a novel then where short bursts of horror offset the fact that it isn’t doing a lot else that is new. There was enough to it though that I’d check out any sequels to see which way the balance swings in the future, definitely a series with potential.

Eight out of Ten


Dana Fredsti said...

Graeme, thank you for the review. The comment about me giving you a "nasty little horror novel" made me chortle with glee. :-) I'm glad you persevered past the urban fantasy tropes!

Mardel said...

I read Plague Town also = I liked it for the humor mixed with the horror.

There are a few earlier UF, and even some paranormal books though, that have invaded zombie genre. My Life as a White Trash Zombie is about a girl who turns into a zombie and is in first person perspective. It was okay, the premise being as long as she controlled herself by eating some kind of brain mixture then she didn't turn into a ravening hunger maching.

I've heard about, though haven't read, some paranormal romances involving zombies and this kind of turns my stomach - and I thought I was past feeling ill over stories. LOL.

What I liked about Plague Town is that mostly - Fredsti kept the same zombie laws or guildelines (whatever they're called) when writing about the zombies - except for the wild cards.

I'm looking forward to reading the sequel also. :)

Dana Fredsti said...

Mardel, there's an anthology called Hungry for Your Love that is a "zombie romance" anthology, but a lot of the stories aren't about zombies having sex. John Skipp has a great story in there (I have one too), and Kilt Kilpatrick's Last Times at Ridgemont High is hilarious. Glad you enjoyed Plague Town!