Friday, June 3, 2011

Book Review: Deadline by Mira Grant

by Sara N.

Warning: This review contains major spoilers for the first book in this series, Feed, although it doesn't spoil anything from Deadline, the book that's under review here. (And if you haven't picked up the first book yet, what are you waiting for?)

When I first heard about this book series, I was a little jealous. Mira Grant had written the book that I'd always wanted to write. Zombies and journalism and politics? Those are the north, south and east on my personal compass (west is kitties). The first book, Feed, was a thrilling treat; the world it established was unlike any zombie universe I'd seen in other books and movies. And happily, Deadline, the much-anticipated sequel, delivers the same heady mix of suspense, intrigue and irreverent humor in the face of ravenous zombies.

In the world Grant has created, new medical advances have the unfortunate side effect of reanimating the dead and leaving them with two urges: infect the healthy and eat their flesh. But the surviving humans fight back, reclaim large swaths of the globe and adapt to their new reality. These books are different because they drop the reader into a fully functioning world. Survivors aren't scavenging for food and scrambling for shelter in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Instead, people live, shop, eat and work pretty much as they did before the Rising. But there are differences. For example, the CDC now calls the shots, and all humans are subject to frequent, mandatory blood tests to look for the zombie virus. (If it's detected, the infected person is executed immediately, with no trial, judge or jury.)

Deadline picks up about a year after Feed, and narrator Shaun Mason is in a dark place. [Seriously, spoilers for Feed.] He's boiling with rage over the death of his beloved sister, Georgia, who was a news blogger investigating a conspiracy surrounding a presidential campaign. She got too close to the truth, and the bad guys killed her for it. Now Shaun is committed to destroying the people who destroyed George, and he's also a little crazy. No, really. He hears (and sometimes sees) George talking to him, and he talks right back.

The book follows Shaun and his news team as they deepen their investigation into the people who ordered George's death, and their horror at what unfolds is gripping. Sure, the blog entries that bookend the chapters can be a little over-the-top, and the dialogue can be a bit clunky. But the book has a bigger problem: Shaun himself. Bluntly, it's a miserable experience to be inside his head. He's angry, short-tempered, violent and obsessed with avenging his sister's death. His two-way conversations with George become tedious; I kept hoping he'd regain his sanity and stop hallucinating their conversations.

That said, the themes Grant tackles are timely and thought-provoking. In this zombiverse, journalists must be licensed, pass a weapons test and register their biases with the government. The CDC and the government work in concert to nurture a climate of fear that keeps people docile and indoors. The new technology that keeps people safe -- be they blood tests or guarded check-points on highways or showers that track the length of time you spend on decontamination procedures -- also strip citizens of their privacy. These are heady ideas, and they're timely, too, in a world of terror alerts and partisan cable news channels and iPhones quietly tracking our physical locations. In addition, the decline of the mainstream media and the rise of online journalism that Grant depicts seems like a reasonable leap to make given what's happening in newsrooms right now.

In short, Deadline features a compelling conspiracy, tense action sequences and a brazen, jaw-dropping ending that will have you asking when the final book comes out. For the record, Blackout is due in May 2012. Here's hoping the zombies don't rise up prior to that date; I absolutely need to read the conclusion of this saga, and I think you will, too.
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  1. I loved where Shaun's head was at - just shy of batshit crazy. Feed was from Georgia's point of view, and she was a compelling mix of analytical, noble, and cynical. I wasn't sure I was looking forward to reading Deadline since Shaun often came off as kind of a silly puppy. By making him so miserable but having George's influence to keep him rational(ish), I think it worked beautifully. Having George linger also allowed Shaun to parse what is, after all, a highly complex set of information.

    The one thing I think Grant falls down on is that her villains are what I call "Mustache Twirlers." The scene in the Memphis CDC was very "No, Mister Bond, I expect you to die!" which is a disservice to the excellence of the rest of the book. Crazy, monologuing villains are very 1980s. Let's leave them there.

  2. Ha! Good point about the bad guy at the end there. It was rather cartoonishly "mwa ha ha" evil, wasn't it? It's frustrating because so many of her other characters are nuanced and three-dimensional.

    I just never got behind the voice in the head thing. In fact, at the end of the first book when he was "talking" to George, I actually thought to myself how annoyed I would be if it continued into the second book. That's just my storytelling preference, though, and I'm glad it worked for other people.

    The best part about it was that it did keep George present as a character throughout book 2, which I think is a good thing, in the long run.

  3. The series as a whole is a MUST-READ for everyone who likes mad science, thrilling story lines and kick-ass characters! It is the very first zombie thriller series I've read and it has set the bar pretty high!