Plague Town – Review

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Zombies have risen (pun intended) to become one of the most ubiquitous supernatural presences in popular culture, gone are the days when it’s only a niche group of people who obsess over what to do in the unlikely situation that a zombie apocalypse occurs, the undead have permeated the public consciousness, from Resident Evil to Dead Rising, from Dawn of the Dead to The Walking Dead. Thankfully they show no signs of slowing their relentless undead march, exemplified by the new novel Plague Town by Dana Fredsti.

Plague Town follows the story of Ashley Parker a late 20’s woman starting out in College, a little later than the average student, who finds herself in the middle of a pandemic of flesh devouring, guttural moaning, walking dead. Miss Parker living the American college dream, complete with jock boyfriend, is enjoying a romantic picnic with said boyfriend only to be unceremoniously interrupted by hoards of undead ghouls that attack, bite, and try to dismember the pair of them. Flash forward to her waking up in a hospital bed and she’s given the news that she’s a ‘wild card’, making her immune to the infection and also coming with the handy bonus of increased strength, agility, senses, etc – her boyfriend however was not so lucky.

Ashley finds herself inducted into a secret military unit of wild cards and together they attempt to stop the spread of the rotting scourge beyond their relatively small and isolated town. This is a zombie novel, it goes without saying that there are plenty of them spread throughout, but the focus is as much on the characters in the story and the group dynamic of the wild cards as it is with zombie action. Like any good story, it’s the draw of interesting characters that keeps you reading and when 90% of the town is trying to tear you apart and suckle on your bone marrow you really do need people around you, both on whom you can rely and also to stop you from succumbing to the sheer terror of it all. The book cleverly balances the requisite action packed gore explosions with human reaction, and humour; pithy retorts and sarcasm are heavily present as a consistent and primary element of Ashley’s character.

Some of my favourites of recent zombie fictions are Charlie Brooker’s unassailable Dead Set and the brilliantly funny Zombieland; both examples of the modern tendency to create more agile undead that are capable of running or opening doors. This creates an entirely more immediate threat than the ominous shambling corpses of earlier appearances in movies etc, with neither representation superior to the other as they both have their own advantages. I would argue that running zombies allow for a more action orientated, faster paced approach whereas the horror of a relentless but slow moving horde is greater. Plague Town opts for the latter so it’s rather considerable zombie population have the unnerving tendency to amble up on people unannounced in a relentless parade, which allows people to get away but with the menacing feeling that they’re still being pursued. Much like the original Halloween movie where Michael Meyers is an unstoppable yet slow moving force, the zombies in this novel just keep coming.

The language and dialogue are very up to date, unlike say Seth Grahame-Smith’s recent Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which was a re-imagining of the quintessential victorian romance novel but with added zombies, Plague Town is rife with pop-culture references and contemporary technology. Allusions to Alien, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Syfy Channel, Twilight, iPhones, and countless examples of zombie fiction in all its forms make this story a clever collection of references to existing work or items. Story elements, like going back for the cat, are lifted from Alien but are discussed in the novel as being like the movie, and the comedy of Joss Whedon’s pop culture rhetoric from Buffy is mirrored throughout. However it would do disservice to the novel to focus too much on these references, it stands on its own as a zombie ridden adventure that is as satisfying in it’s quiet dialogue heavy moments as much as in the action sequences.

The novel also tries to work zombies into the larger fabric of human history, intimating that many catastrophic disasters from human history are actually attempts to contain zombie outbreaks – it’s a particularly fascinating idea that expands the history of a zombie virus to run concurrent with human evolution with the idea that the outbreak in the book is simply one of a great many that have happened before. It’s geeky, and clever, and plays with the tantalising idea of mass conspiracy and cover-ups that always guarantee to cause intrigue in nerdy types.

If I were to raise criticism against it I would say that the heavily Americanised, colloquial writing style is a little too breezy to begin with, at least perhaps for a UK audience, but after a chapter or three you begin not to notice it – also considering the content of TV and Movie’s at present it’s not much of a diversion from normalcy, depending on your viewing habits. Indeed given that it’s written in first person perspective from Ashley’s point of view it’s completely justified in coming across as her internal monologue.

Plague Town provides everything you would expect from a zombie novel, and a few things that you might not expect, it’s funny, sexy, and filled with plenty of shambling, moaning, decomposing specimens of the walking dead that beg to have their heads cut off before they sink their teeth into your warm flesh.

Plague Town is available now from Titan Books.

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  • Dana 21st April 2012

    Thank you for a lovely and thoughtful review!

    • Dan Ponting 22nd April 2012

      You’re most welcome Dana, it was a pleasure!


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