Deadline is the sequel to Feed, and the second novel in Mira Grant's Newsflesh zombie-thriller trilogy.  It also suffers a little from being the second book of a trilogy; but not too heavily, since many of the excellent elements in Feed are carried over here.  However, due to some late-game huge events in Feed, this review has no choice but to spoiler that book, and will thus be hidden behind a cut.  Venture behind at your peril!

Overall, Deadline manages to be an effective novel, but it isn't up to the standard of the first novel in the series in any department; as the middle novel of a trilogy, this is perhaps an inevitability, but it is an unfortunate one.  I'll still be picking up Blackout when it comes out, no doubt about that, but I'm a little more wary of it.  Feed, however, remains a stunningly excellent novel, so if you haven't, go and pick it up!
Feed is not what it appears to be on the cover.  Feed is not a horror novel - or rather, it is not a zombie horror novel; it is still deeply horrific, dark, and moving.  Mira Grant's strongest credential in this novel, to my mind, is that whilst the zombies are horrifying, the true threat is still humanity - because after the zombie apocalypse, after the geeks put their Romero-taught wisdom into practice... what happens next?  Feed is a good, if slightly dated (already!) attempt to answer that.

The year is 2040, two and a half decades after the zombies rose up (an event referred to the Rising, appropriately) thanks to Kellis-Amberlee syndrome - a combination of two retroviruses, one to cure cancer and the other the common cold.  The side-effect is that in combination, these two highly contagious viral drugs turn any mammal over a certain body-mass into a zombie when they die - or otherwise activate the syndrome, making everyone infected (meaning everyone) a potential ticking time bomb.  In this world, bloggers provide the backbone of the media - they were the first to break the zombie-apocalypse story, whilst the print and traditional media were denying it; and they can either go solo or have their blogs supported by a major outlet (the idea that this would take a crisis is, well... dated, as those links go some way towards demonstrating).  Thus the title, and cover art; a gentle pun - Feed, after all, has two different definitions...

Feed lives and dies on its characters, and has a huge benefit in that Grant can do character.  Our central cast is three characters, expanded for a large chunk of the middle to four, the team behind After the End Times, a blog following Senator Peter Ryman as he progresses through the Republican primaries for the 2040 Presidential Elections.  Our narrator is Georgia Mason, a journalist dedicated to the truth and unwilling to spin or lie; she's an incisive, direct interviewer, a keen observer of people, and an intelligent, thoughtful young woman, as well as being emotionally stable and willing to go the distance where necessary.  Her adoptive twin, Shaun Mason, is a thrill-seeker of a reporter; he goes out hunting for zombies in order to sell the danger to the public, and he's hot-headed, but in a crisis, he's decisive, and he knows very well what he's doing.  Finally, Buffy - a "dumb blonde" who, whilst ditzy, is a technology genius and a brilliant fiction writer (taking inspiration from the news collected by the Masons, largely); a devout Catholic, she's a rounded, well thought-out character, rather than being defined purely by her religion or her technical ability.  The other characters are a little less well-written, especially the villain, who is blindingly obviously such from the word "go" (to the extent that the first few times he appears, the reader may think he can't be the villain because it is too obvious); but the central cast, their emotions, and their interactions - highlighted by the nature of the first-person narrative from Georgia - are pitch-perfect.

The plot is a very strong one.  Feed sees the After The End Times team reporting on the Presidential run of Senator Ryman, and slowly sees the emergence of a conspiracy - though even by the end of the novel, we're not quite sure against what or whom it is really directed.  The tension is ratcheted up slowly, with interludes in zombie-combat interspersed amongst the political playbook, which is completely changed by the post-apocalyptic setting; and Grant feeds the flames very effectively, with some passages towards the end of the novel literally forcing tears from the reader on behalf of the characters, as the emotional turmoil and pain going on in the novel is so palpable and we feel so close to these characters.  There's no safety and no security, and the plot doesn't let the reader forget that; certain elements of the novel fall into a new pattern in hindsight, and it's very effectively done.

Feed is one of those books that will stay with the reader long after they've put it down, and is emotionally honest and painful.  It is what literature constantly derides genre fiction for not being, whilst also being about zombies.  If you only read one zombie novel, or one horror novel... make it Feed, because Grant has turned in a work of genius, and I'll be following the rest of the Newsflesh series as soon as I can.


Squeaking of the GrimSqueaker....

February 2012

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