Thursday, 16 March 2017

Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (that I know of)

The world is Cassie Fremont’s playground. Her face is on the cover of every newspaper, she has no homework, no curfew, and no credit limit, and she spends her days traveling the country with her friends, including a boy who would flirt with death just to turn her head. Life is just about perfect—except that those newspaper headlines are about her bludgeoning her crush to death with a paintball gun, she has to fight ravenous walking corpses every time she steps outside, and one of her friends is still missing, trapped somewhere in the distant, practically impassable wreckage of Manhattan. Still, Cassie’s an optimist. More prone to hysterical laughter than hysterical tears, she’d rather fight a corpse than be one, and she won’t leave a friend stranded when she can simply take her road trip to impossible new places to find her, even if getting there means admitting to that boy that she might just love him, too. Skillfully blending effective horror with unexpected humor, this diary-format novel is a fast-paced and heartwarming read. 

Quick disclaimer - I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, however this has in no way influenced my write-up. There are no five stars for freebies here! Also, this review contains spoilers. I tried to avoid them, but there were some plot points that I couldn't not mention to get my points across.

Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (that I know of) - or just Confessions, which is what I'll be calling the book from here on out, because I'll be damned if I'm typing that title out again! - is a good idea on paper. Bascially, teens inherit the earth after a zombie outbreak, one that seems to kill off most responsible adults for much of the book, and make off on a cross country roadtrip to rescue their stranded friend. The execution however, is a bit fumbled, which unfortunately strips much of the tension and excitement from the story. If you'll pardon the pun, it lacks bite. I don't necessarily want the characters to be showing fear, but I do want to feel that there's genuine peril.

Whether the characters are fleeing a zombie horde that's cornered them in an abandoned store, are discussing the logistics of driving through gridlocked roads, meeting other survivors or happily (a little too happily for me to be comfortable with) smashing in undead skulls, everything reads exactly the same. Cassie accidentally kills her crush. Cassie is locked up pre-outbreak on suspicion of murder. Cassie stumbles upon her zombified parents. And we don't see one iota of emotion. When one character is killed on the road, another deals with it by abandoning the group and shacking up with the first hot guy they stumble across. Another's best friend is killed, and after locking himself in a room for a bit of sulk, he abruptly appears to get over it and never mentions him again. Everyone acts like their parents have gone away for the weekend and left them in the house alone, not that everyone they loved is dead and the world's gone to hell around them.

The author's writing style was good, but it could have done with a tighter edit to make the actual action it was conveying a little clearer. The tone was clearly going for a Buffy-esque narrator and characters loaded with sarcasm, quick-wit and an irreverent tone, and it certainly succeeded, but that meant it was hard to get all that invested in the story. Cassie, and every single one of the supporting characters, joked about, mocked and downplayed any threat that the story should have carried. Even Buffy got serious when things were bad! It's hard to feel much investment in the story when it's told by someone who's so detached at all times.

The action was kind of hard to follow a lot of the time too. Because we're in the main character's head, and she thinks in the same chatty, colloquial style that she speaks, it's not always easy to work out exactly what's happening. There's a scene where one of the supporting characters gets bitten by a zombie and has to be quickly killed, but I had to read the scene four times (I'm not kidding) to figure out A. that he'd been bitten, B. that he'd subsequently been killed before he could turn and C. which other character it was that performed his coup de grace. I not averse to a writer leaving some things to the imagination, in fact I love author's trusting their readers to fill in the blanks, but I shouldn't have to read a scene multiple times just to work out what I'm being presented with because it's buried in a character's train of thought and an endless stream of references to other events.

The ending was a bit out of left field, when the story suddenly veered into Mad Max territory, with Cassie and the other survivors holed up in a convenience store fending off an armed group. But the dramatic climax fell pretty flat thanks to a hastily tacked-on epilogue, which essentially undoes a tragically poignant death (I'm sorry, but no one takes a gunshot to the stomach in a world without hospitals and sterilised medical equipment and then turns up alive in the next chapter with just a gravelier voice to show for it). I'm not a big fan of books - or movies, or comics, or anything else for that matter - that try and have their cake and eat it by going for a big emotional death, only to then backtrack and have the character turn up alive.

There were some inspired moments - the group's trip to Elvis's mansion was pure Zombieland! - and the book certainly delivered on its promise of a kick-ass protagonist. If you like first person narrative and diary style storytelling, you'll probably love most of the elements I couldn't get on board with. Confessions was a pretty standard post-apocalyptic zombie, with a contemporary YA twist that sparked it to life. Unfortunately that same twist made the plot a little hard to follow and made the characters too hard to empathise or identify with.

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