Written by Rhiannon Frater
Published by Tor
Zombies, zombies, zombies. Man there are a lot of zombies out there these days. You can’t take two steps backwards without tripping over some undead creep starring in a book, graphic novel, movie, tv series, video game, board game, coaster set, stuffed toy, lunchbox, monogrammed fine china, you get the idea. I’m starting to experience zombie malaise. I think I’m almost zombied out.
But not yet.
With the mass exposure the undead have gotten lately, I wasn’t expecting to be surprised again by the zombie apocalypse genre. After Brian Keene’s masterful literary treatments of the subject, I was convinced there was nowhere new or different to go in print with the risen dead.
Texas author Rhiannon Frater has proven me wrong, and I’m just tickled pink that she has.
I gripe a lot about the self-publishing movement. We’ve seen a mass amount of books that should never have gone to press. Unfinished, unpolished work written by people not yet at the skill level necessary to play in the big leagues, all dropping thousands of dollars to have their work printed up to look like it was published by the mainstream press when they’d never touch it in reality. Frater self-published this trilogy of books, and Tor was wise in snapping them up as she definitely defies the low-quality trend of self-published authors. Tor is releasing these as revised, ‘definitive’ editions, so even if you’ve read them before, you have good reason to buy them again.
The first book in the As The World Dies trilogy, The First Days introduces us to Kate and Jenni, two very different women thrown together on Z-Day as the undead start chewing their way through humanity. Kate’s a prosecutor who’s just barely escaped her undead wife’s snapping jaws, Jenni is a mother of three whose abusive husband has just eaten and turned her children, forcing her out of her house in her nightgown. Together, they escape an unnamed Texas city to the countryside in the hopes of finding a safe haven to ride out the end of the world.
From that description alone, you should be able to see that we’re going someplace a little different. Frater brings a female perspective to the zombie genre that we haven’t seen before, ever. This is to zombies what Anne Rice was to vampires, plain and simple. It’s a revolution. In Jenni and Kate, Frater has created real, human, believable women protagonists who deal with the zombie apocalypse in ways that would escape most men. Facing emotional issues such as motherhood, loneliness, sex, and friendship as a woman is very different when your family is now trying to eat you and anyone else alive.
As they traverse the backwoods of Texas and find eventual, if potentially temporary, safety, we get to know Jenni and Kate inside and out, and they’re vibrant, fantastic characters. Much like all great stories, the strength of The First Days is the people in the story even more than the story itself.
That’s not to say this is a touchy-feely ‘chick book’. This is a rock-solid zombie romp boiling over with action, horror, and gore. It hits the ground running with absolutely no setup or exposition: they’re here, they’re dead, and they’re going to kill our heroines if they pause for even a second. You’ve got more guts on display here than a Romero film, but more pathos than The Walking Dead.
In fact, I like this better than The Walking Dead. There, I said it. Sue me, it’s true, book or tv, the world Frater has created is populated with more interesting characters, engaging in more action, facing more entertaining and complicated emotional and real-world challenges.
The only serious flaw in the book is the ending. It doesn’t really have one. Much like an episode of a television show, it ends with a few cliffhangers to make you want to tune in for the next one, but there isn’t a great deal of resolution. I’m of the belief that even books in a series or trilogy should be self-contained enough to have a beginning, middle, and end. The First Days lacks in that last step, and while we know we’re getting the second and last installments of the trilogy, I would have enjoyed seeing more closure, no matter how fleeting.
At 331 pages, The First Days is a lean, mean read. You’ll blow through this faster than a herd of undead at an all-cheerleader buffet. And like those reekers, you’ll be starving for more as soon as you finish the meal. If Frater has more like this in her head, buy this book now so you can say you liked her before she became the Next Big Deal In Horror, because that’s where she’s headed.
4 1/2 out of 5