Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Time of Death: Asylum review

    I've mentioned what a big fan I am of Shana Festa's signature series. Time of Death: Induction was exactly the sort of breath of fresh-air I needed after a series of increasingly dreary and grim zombie novels. Horrible stories of survival and trauma are fine, don't get me wrong, but it seemed like that's all anyone was doing.

    Time of Death is more or less the Southern Vampire Mysteries of zombies, following protagonist Emma Rossi as she meets the apocalypse with a can-do chipper attitude. This is contrasted to her husband, who is unable to process how his wife is able to remain so calm and upbeat in the face of the world's end.

    The premise of the books is Sanibel Island, the refuge from the previous books, has fallen. Our heroine, her husband, her brother-in-law, and sister-in-law all pile together in a boat to flee. Searching for fellow survivors in Florida, they hear rumors of a potential location called "Asylum." Meeting an oddball cast of characters, they eventually arrive and try to deal with their new-found home's peculiar rules.

    It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize Asylum isn't going to end up all it's cracked up to be. Shana Festa's avoids the common pitfalls of zombie fiction writers, however, by avoiding making them overtly evil. The majority of people in Asylum are helpful, friendly, and interested in saving their fellow humans.

    There's something evil going on, of course, but finding out what and who is involved is a mystery. This is a nice contrast to The Walking Dead's Woodbury or Terminus where it seems everyone is a willing slave to the Governor or a cannibal. The fact the survivors include many decent folk also prevents an easy solution like opening the gates to the undead. No, our heroine must convince her fellow survivors of what she finds or run the risk of being tossed out into the wilderness.

    What's interesting is the majority of the book takes place away from asylum, wandering around the ruins of Florida. While other series would play on the horror of a now-empty city, this book takes time to show the upsides of the apocalypse. Admit it: if you were looking for shelter in the zombie apocalypse, you'd probably go for the biggest, fanciest, and most well-equipped mansion you could.

    The fact some locations have working electricity and plumbing hint at larger survivors than we're used to in these situations to (or just some houses are "really" well equipped). This adds a nice little bit of social satire which has been missing from the genre since the original George Romero movies. The social satire is subtle, but it's there. All of the money in the world can't protect you against a real disaster and people want comfort, even in the face of oblivion.

    The writing is sharp, the scary scenes are scary, and the funny scenes are funny. There's a surprising number of well-written characters in this book with all of them able to stand out as individuals before the inevitable grasping hand of death kills them off. Despite being a lighter and softer series, Time of Death still has a large number of casualties. I can't tell who is going to live and who is going to die, either, which is new for me. It's also the only zombie series I know to have a cute dog! What's not to love?

    In conclusion, this is an awesome sequel to an equally good book. I hope Shana Festa can keep up the pace. If there's one flaw, it's the fact the book doesn't really so much end as peter out. The book has a cliffhanger and I hate those. Still, I'd be wrong in giving this anything less than a 10 out of 10.

Buy at Amazon.com

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