“People die. And it ain’t easy.”
– Fighting to Survive by Rhiannon Frater
And while the novel wasn’t exactly innovative in terms of expanding the boundaries of zombie fiction or apocalyptic fiction, Frater’s extraordinary ability to develop emotionally compelling and endearing characters made The First Days a virtually unputdownable read.
The novel begins with an unimaginably horrific sequence; arguably one of the most memorable – and disturbing – scenes I’ve ever experienced in a zombie novel. Jenni, a disillusioned wife and mother trapped in a marriage with a physically abusive man, wakes up to find her zombified husband consuming their three-year old son (…she found Lloyd, hunched over Benjamin, eating away her baby’s tender flesh.”). After rushing outside, Jenni watches as her now undead family wildly tries to escape the house to get at her:
“The fingers pressed under the front door of her home were so very small. She could not stop staring at those baby fingers straining frantically to reach her as she stood shivering on the porch…”
Fatefully rescued by a woman driving by – an attorney named Katie whom minutes earlier witnessed her own beloved wife Lydia become one of the undead – the two very different women escape the bloody chaos around them in search of some kind of sanctuary. What they find is a world gone insane, civilization in a matter of hours completely destroyed…
Rarely are middle volumes of trilogies considered the most memorable or strongest installments so no disrespect to Frater is intended here – in fact, I think she did an admirable job with this book. In the thrilling first novel, Jenni and Katie were primarily focused on escaping the zombie hordes and simply surviving from moment to moment. In Fighting to Survive, they are (relatively) safe inside of the fortified town of Ashley Oaks and are beginning to look at survival in the long term – finding a suitable place to live, creating food and weapon caches, establishing a new social order amongst the survivors, collectively finding ways to not only deal with the zombies but also with a band of murderous bandits, etc.
And while Fighting to Survive didn’t blow me away like The First Days did, what it did do was set the table for a potentially blockbuster of a third volume. And if Siege is as half as good as I’m expecting it to be, we’re all in for one helluva read!
As evidenced recently by Sophie Littlefield's Aftertime saga (Aftertime and Rebirth), Joan Frances Turner's Resurgam sequence (Dust and Frail), and Frater's As the World Dies trilogy, apocalyptic fiction isn't exclusively written by and for men anymore – readers looking for some downright unforgettable heroines at the end of the world should look no further than these exceptional sagas.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
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