Walking Dead and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans take note: Dana Fredsti is bringing some fresh blood to both the zombie and the supernatural-fighting-females genres. Even better for those of us no longer in our teens and twenties – this one is 30, back in grad school, dating a slightly younger, but not inappropriately so, handsome man and entirely too busy for non-sense.
Told from a mix of first and third person perspectives, Plague Town (due for release this April from Titan Books) tells the story of a college town in which students, faculty and townfolk contract an often fatal strain of the flu virus called Walker’s (named after patient zero). Some survive, some succumb. For the latter, they don’t stay down long. The victims, many of whom make up the third person perspective sections peppered throughout the novel, rise out of their sick beds and take to the streets in search of – you guessed it – human flesh.
The rest pretty much follows the tropes of the genre (at least at first) – bites will turn victims into zombies, head-wounds are the only sure bet for taking the zombies down, and there are a few folks who for some reason or another seem to be immune to the virus. Our protagonist, Ashely Parker, learns all these lessons and more from her female Pandemics in History professor and her male, hot-but-up-tight TA, both of whom also work for a secret government organization charged with containing the outbreak.
Ashley and others who are immune to the virus, called “wild cards,” are the key weapons in the fight against zombies and further infection. Rather than being weakened and eventually killed by the virus, the wild cards are given increased strength and keen senses. After meeting her fellow newly minted citizen-soldiers, many of who are far more freaked out than Ashley herself, and beginning the training process the team are quickly confronted with an emergency necessitating a quick end to the preparation phase and a full-on battle for survival.
The first of a planned trilogy, Plague Town works wonderfully as a quick, beach or airplane read full of action, sexual tension done with refreshing subtly, women who are both strong and complex, and pop culture references that give readers like myself that peculiar and exhilarating charge of being in on the joke.
For Buffy fans, there is something about the covert government organization that has a season 4 “Riley and the Initiative” feel to it. Fredsti uses the conventions of the genre to give the reader several people to love and just a few to love-to-hate as the action progresses. You will likely find yourself trying to predict who will become a zombie, who will betray the group and who will be the sacrifice that saves them all (or WILL they?) The good news for readers is that while it would be hard to argue Fredsti adds anything new to the (arguably) over-saturated zombie market, she does create interesting characters and a few surprises that keep readers engaged and excited to see what happens next.
Perhaps most notably, as a character Ashely Parker has the kind of intelligence and uncompromising bravery that it is hard not to like. The fact that she is also out of her twenties and still capable of being desirable, funny and totally kick-ass doesn’t hurt either.
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