Saint Petersburg, FL is filled with hungry soulless monsters. Also, zombies.
This isn't just me being flippant. Dead Tide is one of those uncommon, if not rare, zombie books which remembers the creatures were created (or, if you desire, adapted) for the purposes of social commentary. Modern adaptations of the zombie often forget the metaphor and simply make them a Maguffin for exploring the effects of trauma on humans.
Dead Tide is more akin to the original George Romero use of zombies as Saint Petersburg, FL is used as the backdrop for an exploration of the simmering tensions existing in the United States today. When all hell breaks loose during your otherwise-typical zombie uprising (which is an odd sentence now that I think about it), Stephen A. North takes the time to examine how it impacts various classes of people. White, black, rich, poor, classy, and trashy all get their reactions gauged as things go to hell around them.
The city of Saint Petersburg is done no favors by Stephen A. North as the RL vacation spot is shown to be a place with a lot of ugly lying just beneath the surface of its glitzy atmosphere. In this respect, he successfully replicates what I liked so much about Dead Rising 2.
In that video game, our heroes were forced to try and rescue greedy-stupid people from a zombie apocalypse happening in a Faux-Las Vegas. Here, the many protagonists struggle to survive a seemingly glamorous town where everyone is ready to throw each other under the bus when the crap hits the fan.
Stephen A. North deserves credit for also handling the misogyny criticism of so-much post-apocalyptic fiction with a deft hand. At first, it seems like he uses several viewpoint characters to put female characters in typical "damsel in distress" situations but I was surprised to find these are subverted.
For one, the men ogling the female characters and thinking how they're all "bitches" for ignoring them under other circumstances are portrayed as the creepy weirdos they are. Likewise, when a person is stalked by those self-same weirdos, it's portrayed as a dangerous situation which they have to escape on their own rather than be protected from via a male protagonist. The passive sexism of many citizens is examined and condemned, which I liked.
One of the more memorable sequences in the book is where a fireman and his female associate come across a man who has apparently killed two jewelry store clerks. He's clearly unhinged and babbling in a way which leaves it unclear whether he murdered the two women or if he just put down their zombies. Either way, the man enjoyed it because they treated him poorly because of his clothes and were attractive women. It leaves our two heroes in a precarious position about what to do since he wants to go with them.
In fact, the book is filled with memorable apocalypse moments. Other favorites included the suicidal last stand of a cop confronted with a classicist Senator, the accidental shooting of a child during a vigilante killing spree, and the only people who have a grasp on what the hell is going on being individuals who have seen a zombie movie before. The latter adds a bit of much-needed levity as it's my own personal bugbear to have zombies always be something "new and unexpected" in fiction.
My favorite scene in the book? A terrible moment where a child is revealed to have been bitten and the people who want to put him down find those who love him willing to protect him with lethal force--a perfect tragedy for a zombie apocalypse.
Is the book flawless?
Readers should be warned the book takes a little time to get heated up and skips around too much at the beginning. Only a few pages are spent every chapter before switching perspectives to another character. While the book helpfully marks whose perspective is being moved to at the beginning of each chapter, it still was very confusing at the start. I would have preferred if Stephen A. North had done longer chapters so we knew each protagonist very well before moving back and forth.
Nevertheless, I am going to say Dead Tide ranks up there with The Estuary for my favorite zombie apocalypse story. The characters are likable, the storytelling tight, the body-count high, and there's actually something said about real-life (specifically, class and race relations in America). What more could I ask for? In fact, I like it so much, I'm going to give it a ten despite its flaws. Just because its enjoyment factor trumps the bad.
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