I liked the light-hearted but still serious Young Adult novel Zombie Attack!: Rise of the Horde (reviewed here). I'm a great believer that those years from thirteen to eighteen are when kids develop a desire for more mature content and it's the obligation of writers to provide them with that. Having enjoyed the original novel, I was pleased to hear that not only had Devan Sagliani written a sequel but having finished it, he decided it was worth splitting into two novels and expanding into as series.
So what is the premise?
Xander MacNamarra has survived the zombie apocalypse, managing to join up with the United States military's remnant on the California coast. This has its ups and downs as while it's given him the stability to marry his girlfriend, Felicity, it has also resulted in his recruitment. Because of his relationship with his high-ranking brother, Xander is promoted to a leadership position over men twice his age and put in charge of defending one of the civilian camps despite not being ready for it.
Command doesn't agree with Xander and he quickly alienates the people he's supposed to be protecting. Paranoia, mistrust, and a series of unfortunate events result in him on the run with his bride across the zombie and outlaw-filled wastelands once more. Add in a new friend who might be a foe, bounty hunter Sonya, and you have an excellent basis for a story.
The start of the book is the weakest portion, forcing a believable but boring jealousy plotline to emerge between Xander and his wife. Xander becomes insanely jealous of Felicity's friendship with a male coworker for the first half of the book and the second half reverses to her being jealous of Xander's relationship with Sonya.
This isn't unrealistic as seventeen-year-olds are stupid, I know, I was one once, but it's annoying. I'm also not fond of the resolution given I'm not a big fan of, "You can't be jealous of X, because he's gay!" As if it's less wrong that he's jealous of a heterosexual male friend. As for the second bit of jealousy? Well, that would be spoiling a major subplot so I'll just say it was obvious to me what was really going on.
Despite this, there's a lot to like about both the novel and its characterization. The original novel felt like a stand-alone but the author expands on both the world as well as its central couple. The addition of Sonya is welcome given the decided lack of estrogen in the original novel. Besides, who doesn't like a blonde Samus Aran-esque bounty hunter in the post-apocalypse world? Sonya is a great character who reminds the audience that, yes, adults can be awesome too.
The heart of the novels, though, is the main character and his internal monologues. Xander MacNamarra is a capable swordsman, intelligent, and tough but he makes mistakes. He's also overwhelmed by people who are stronger than him or multiple opponents. With so many youthful protagonists being unbelievable badasses despite their age, it's nice to have someone who is authentic feeling.
I'm also a huge fan of Felicity, who despite being a child star, also comes off as someone I could see existing in real-life. She's intelligent, brave, and quite a good deal smarter than Xander. Felicity isn't an action girl like Sonya but manages to impress with her strength of character and compassion. She's never weak or a load on the characters, too, so I'm quite willing to think of her as Xander's equal despite her needing a weapon of some kind. Maybe she can take pistol training in the upcoming books or something.
I will give props to the author for the fact he managed to turn around a scenario I thought was a mistake. When the pair married at the end of the first book, I thought it was a trifle unrealistic given their ages. Of course, seventeen-year-olds make mistakes like this all the time. Perhaps not quite as bad but the pair's parents aren't there to haul them back either. I applaud the author for being honest that marriage wouldn't be all sunshine and roses even if I didn't quite like the way he went about it.
The setting is also great and the author gets a chance to expand on it much more than the first book allowed. It's a weird combination of science-fiction apocalypses with zombies being a lesser problem than the roving gangs you'd find in, say, Mad Max. This would make a pretty decent video game setting as the environment provides very different sorts of challenges for our heroes.
The world is still mostly-civilized but it's broken up into dozens of smaller nations with countless outlaws living on the fringes of society. Zombies are a common problem but not an insurmountable one, just one which is preventing rebuilding. I like that many of the warlords and leaders of the post-apocalypse world have plans for rebuilding society--it's just they have very different ideas about what said society is going to look like.
In conclusion, Curse of the Living is a very good entry into the genre. It's not perfect but I think it's very good. It also does its job of making me think there's a full-fledged series worth of material here. As for myself, I'm interested in reading the Adventures of Mr. and Mrs. MacNamarra for many books to come.
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