The Dead Tide series is one of my favorite zombie series and one of the few which I think actually takes advantage of the format. They're not flawless and not for everyone but if I had to recommend zombie fiction for a connoisseur then it would be up there with the Time of Death books, World War Z, Ex-Heroes. and The Becoming series.
The story doesn't do anything particularly unique with the format, zombies functioning under Romero rules, but Stephen A. North approaches the issue from the perspective of a natural disaster. He also adds a good deal of B-movie titillation and gore to spice things up. It's a curious but great mixture which will appeal to fans who enjoy a mixture of sex and violence with their storytelling.
What these books have going for them is they have a huge cast of characters that are always switching perspectives and giving their general view of a degenerating situation from top to bottom. The pacing of the books is intense with the situation not only troubled by zombies themselves but the sudden and permanent disruption of social services as well as a degeneration into anarchy. The biggest appeal of the books, for me, is the ability to watch otherwise rationale people become wild animals as panic and adrenaline robs them of their morality.
There are good people in the Dead Tide series, quite a lot of them, but the majority of them become increasingly primal as events get worse with no sign of getting better. The first book covered the spread of the zombie virus through a single city while the second book followed it spreading throughout the United States. By the end of the second book, the incompetent President of the United States has made a catastrophic series of errors which has cost him the loyalty of the military (refusing to evacuate their families first), essentially causing the dissolution of the government via mutiny.
Dead Tide: Surge picks up after the United States government has disintegrated but the majority of people aren't aware of this. Indeed, it happens almost immediately after the second book and suffers for the fact there's no real attempt to reintroduce anyone. This is the kind of series which could really use a glossary or a list of characters or, really, the book taking the time to say who everyone is. It's been a year since I've read the last one so I was a bit confused at the start but rapidly picked up on who was who. Some readers are going to be put off by the fact the Dead Tide series is a very intense series with lots of sexuality if not actual sexual content. As society continues to crumble, people become more violent and obsessed with sex as well as what they're going to do with the resulting Dark Ages which is going to happen.
Sexual assault is, thankfully, almost completely absent from the books but the fear of it is a constant concern for some characters while others are motivated by sexual desire. Some characters are willing to trade sex for protection, some attempt to pressure others for it as a reward for services rendered, others have sex in order to feel alive, and others just are constantly aware of their urges while every extra minute alive is a blessing. This is an uncommon portrayal of sex in zombie fiction but one I found interesting to contrast the largely sexless zombie books I read outside of the original Walking Dead comics.
While many will be justifiably off-put by Trish the former stripper turned zombie hunter showing up naked in her first scene she remains one of my favorite characters for her intense survival-driven personality. I also like the relationship she forms with Mills the Fireman and other couples (or otherwise) which form in the crisis. One of the more intriguing plotlines is a soldier charged with protecting the First Lady coming onto him as she decides to simply abandon her disgraced husband in hopes of getting away with their child to someplace safe. The author is able to take a ridiculous premise and sell it through the intensity of the emotions he conveys on the page.
The books are an experience with the author doing an excellent job of getting you into the head of his dozens of leads. You feel their emotions as they range from despair, greed, anger, fear, and absurdist humor. I wasn't always able to remember who previous characters were but didn't have to as I was experiencing the crisis as they were. The books are a literary car crash survival with a series of exciting but terrifying events followed by a sense of general numbness. Surge ends on a cliffhanger so readers who got into the story should be warned they're in for a wait to find out what happens to their favorite characters.
So, is Dead Tide: Surge high art? No, not at all. It's a upscale HBO zombie series in the making with better acting than normal but the same amount of gore as well as sexuality. Something would have been a True Blood-esque answer to The Walking Dead. This is a bit different than the first novel, which was more serious, but not necessarily a bad thing. Great and emotional plots stand alongside schlocky but fun ones. I can't grade this book as literature but I can talk about it in terms of pure fun and tension, which it had a lot of both.