01/08/2012. Contributed by Andy Whitaker
pub: Titan Books. 350 page paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-85768-635-0).
check out website: www.titanbooks.com
'Plague Town' is the first in the 'Ashley Parker' series with 'Plague Nation' and 'Plague World' being the second and third, although at the time of writing this review they are still listed as forthcoming. The first novel gives us another take on the zombie idea that dead people can be re-animated and have as insatiable desire to eat other non-dead people. Instead of voodoo witchcraft and poisons derived from exotic plants and animals, in the Ashley Parker universe you can get turned into a zombie by catching a virus. There is, of course, an ancient secret organization whose name translates as Killers Of The Living Dead. Their mission is to deal with sporadic outbreaks and conceal them from the general population.
The story is set in the small university town of Redwood Grove where Ashley Parker is in her sophomore year (that's the second year to us Brits) studying Liberal Arts. Ashley is a mature student at twenty-nine making her about ten years older than her classmates and her current boyfriend, Matt. While out on a romantic picnic, zombies attack them and although having been bitten, Ashley survives. She is one of those rare individuals known as Wild Cards who are immune to the Zombie virus. In fact, now that she has been exposed to the virus, her immune system has increased and her senses and physical characteristics such as strength and stamina way beyond what mere normal people have. Having recovered from her encounter with the zombies Ashley is trained with other Wild Cards to become efficient zombie killers.
Traditionally bodily fluids getting into mucus membranes or open wounds pass the zombie virus. That is why getting bitten by a zombie is generally fatal as if they don't eat all of you, you are likely to become infected and become a zombie. The new development in this outbreak is that some people are getting infected without getting bitten which causes the military to send in the black ops and quarantine the town. From here on in, the story becomes a zombie slugfest as the Wild Cards are sent out on assignments to clean areas of the campus of the zombie infestation before building to a dramatic and climatic battle. There are a couple of plot twists to maintain your interest but one of them is pretty obvious from the start as one of the Wild Cards is 'different'.
The story moves on at quite a pace and I found it hard to put down. This was partly due to the plot but mostly due to the obnoxious, arrogant Ashley Parker character. I have not read many novels were the main heroine has a severe attitude problem usually found in a thirteen year-old. The rebellious attitude to anyone and everything made it impossible for me to relate to her. I began to cheer on the zombies in the hope that one or two might give her a good thrashing and take her down a peg or two. I actually punched the air and cheered when on page 300 after another one of her outbursts, one of the other characters turned to Ashley and said, 'We don't have time for this juvenile shit.' Oh, if only it had been said a few hundred pages earlier.
As I read the book, I was immediately aware of the similarities with 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer'. While there are cosmetic differences, there is so much in common to make this more or less a Buffy meets the zombie's tale. They are both female, attending college, have enhanced fighting abilities, regularly attacked by monsters and supported by ancient secret societies. Where Buffy wins out, though, is the range of demons and vampires she comes up against which present different challenges and stories. Ashley Parker is limited to zombies, which are hardly dynamic, intelligent or known for their range of death dealing skills. Having read the book, I noted that in the Acknowledgments appendix, Dana Fredsti gives thanks to the person who gave her the 'Buffy with zombies idea.' Perhaps a little more to distinguish Ashley from the more established Buffy other than Ashley's juvenile rebellious trait would have helped.
If you want an enjoyable read that won't tax the intellect while on holiday, then this would fit the bill. The plot flows along but holds few surprises. While a zombie virus is interesting, there's no information in the book on how it works or how it manages to make corpses - many with large bits missing - move with a purpose. My concern for the next books is that without introducing something other than your standard basic zombie, they are going to become very repetitive. Arrive at new location. See zombie, kill zombie. Repeat until no more zombies.
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