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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What I'm Reading: Feed and The Reapers Are the Angels

As I posted here, many people are proclaiming 2010 the Year of the Zombie, but like the vampire craze that has preceded it, this zombie craze has also taken the supernatural creature out of its traditional spot in the pages of the horror novel and placed it among new genre friends.

Let me explain. Although vampires abound in both the Twilight and Sookie Stackhouse series these vampires are not scary, they are the love interests. In the simplest of explanations, these books are paranormal romances not horror novels.

Again, let's get basic here. A horror novel's main goal is to induce fear in its readers. Vampires have been leaving the horror novel in droves since the publication of Anne Rice's Interview the Vampire, but until recently zombies have been firmly entrenched in horror literature. Don't worry, zombies have not become dashing and lovable, but their presence does not automatically mean the book is horror anymore.

Both Feed and The Reapers are the Angels are great examples of different genres which have borrowed the zombie, both to enhance the chills factor in their books, and to jump on the bandwagon. However, thankfully, these were both great reads; the zombies were just an added bonus.

Feed by Mira Grant is getting rave reviews everywhere. I agree it was a great, edge of your seat, political thriller, but horror novel it was not.

Feed is set in a near future in which the cure for the common cold, mixed with the cure for cancer has caused a zombie problem. The world is full of zombies and they are not nice. Another speculative feature of this world is that when the dead started rising, the traditional news outlets ignored the story, but not bloggers.  Bloggers saved the day by working together to figure out what was going on and pass on information on how to properly kill a zombie and protect yourself. Hence the play on words of the title and cover: you subscribe to their RSS "feed," but also, it is a world where zombies want to "feed" on you. Wink, wink.

The resulting world is made up of heavily fortified communities where people are testing for virus levels everywhere they go (to make sure they aren't about to become a zombie). The details into how the world now appears and functions are wonderful; as good as any of the best dark fantasy settings out there. I was enthralled for the first 100 pages just becoming a part of this world.

Now the plot. Our story follows Georgia and Sean, siblings and co- bloggers who along with their partner Buffy, are picked as the first bloggers to follow a Presidential candidate. But do our heroes know what they are getting into? Narrated by Georgia (who is great), we see the two young, up and coming journalists unravel a huge plot to spread the zombie virus in order to put a different person in the Presidency. It goes up to the highest levels of government and many lives are lost, but our team using good journalism skills save the day. Yes there are zombies attacking, but the plot is about how Georgia and Sean unravel the plot and take down the bad guys.

Along with the setting and the detailed zombie attacks, I loved Georgia's narration, and the details on how their blogger syndicate worked. Overall I liked this book, but I have to warn you, the ending is dark. There will be a sequel, but I am wary of it much due to a huge plot twist at the end of the book, which will change the tone of the next book completely. Also, despite the dark twist at the end, the resolution is a bit hokey (but that is keeping with the whole political thriller genre, which is why I tend to stay away from it personally).

By the way, Feed has a great companion site.

Three Word to Describe Feed: dark, political thriller, zombies

Readalikes for Feed: I have given Feed to readers who enjoy Brad Meltzer and David Baldacci. This novel shares so many similarities to their darker and twisted political thrillers.  Especially, I would suggest The Book of Fate (which I read here) and The Camel Club. Although, a word of warning, Feed is much darker than the darkest of Meltzer and Baldacci. I also think James Rollins, who mixes political thrillers with supernatural events is also a good choice here.

But if you are looking for the perfect paring, turn to Jonathan Maberry's techno-thriller series starring Joe Ledger and beginning with Patient Zero, which also features zombies without being a horror novel. (I have read and talked about Patient Zero here.)

So Feed has zombies but is really a political thriller at its core, and my other example, The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell has a lot of zombies also, but it is really a textbook example of a creepy psychological suspense novel merged with and old fashioned Southern Gothic story.

Here, we have another zombie apocalypse, but this time, we get no explanation as to how and why it happens, but since our narrator is a 15-year-old, illiterate girl named Temple, who has never know a world without zombies and has been on her own for most of her life, this makes sense. Temple would not know how the zombies came to be part of her reality, she just knows that they are there and need to be dealt with.

The world is not as organized in Temple's world as it was in the speculative America of Feed. People have not learned how to live with the zombies; these citizens are still in a daily struggle to survive. As a result, the descriptions of the landscape, the people, the small settlements, the deserted towns, are infinitely more haunting.

I don't want to talk too much about the plot here because there isn't much. Just know that Temple is one tough young woman who kills a man who tries to rape her and then is stalked by said man's brother who wants to now kill her. They engage in a strange, frightening, and at times oddly heart warming game of at and mouse. Along the way, Temple also acquires a mute, giant, Maury as a traveling companion. As Temple tries to return Maury to his home in Texas, Moses pursues her. The three meet an odd assortment of people along the way. It is the accumulation of these encounters which makes up the story. When they all get to Texas the story is done. I will you let you see for yourself how it all ends.

I also want to stress the psychological suspense angle of this novel. Temple is being stalked by Moses as she travels through an inhospitable landscape. Things are not going well for Temple and there is no hope they will get better. She is also conflicted about the "sins" she has committed; the people and zombies she has killed, the "family" she has let down.

I loved how much this book creeped me out. The zombies were pushed off to the periphery, not in your face like in Feed. But more than that, the bleak landscape, the tough child on her own, and the evil Moses trailing her were so satisfyingly creepy. I was nervous, unsettled, and uncomfortable throughout the entire book, and I love every minute of it.

This is traditional Southern Gothic style meets psychological suspense with a dash of zombies. Hey, I like that short description so I am going to go with it... Three Words that Describe The Reapers Are the Angels: Southern Gothic, psychological suspense, zombies

Readalikes: This book is a must read for fans of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, a book whose praises I have sung before. This is also a good option for the people who liked the atmosphere of The Passage and don't mind that there isn't much action in Bell's quieter novel.

Temple's journey and the odd people she meets along the way also reminded me of one of my back list favorites, Cold Mountain. There is a lot of Faulkner in The Reapers Are the Angels too. And Maury is just too much like Lennie to ignore.

And then there is the psychological suspense angle to consider. Similarly creepy books in his genre that might appeal to fans of Bell's novel would be The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, anything by Peter Abrahams, and/or Patricia Highsmith.

I liked both books for what they were. I probably would have not liked Feed as much without the zombies and Georgia's narration. The Reapers are the Angels, I think I would have enjoyed with or without the zombies. And, one final comment, both of these books share a HUGE plot development which I will not mention, as it would spoil everything. But, I will say, it may be a bit shocking for some readers.

So while 2010 may actually be the year of the Zombie, they are not all living on the pages of horror novels. But that may not be a bad thing either.

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