2013’s Domino Falls is a sequel to Stephen Barnes and Tananarive Due’s 2012 novel, Devil’s Wake.
Freak Day, when the infected turned on their former friends, neighbours, and family members, ended the comfortable old world. Mere weeks after Freak Day, most humans are either dead or infected. The few untainted survivors struggle to survive and to avoid the infection even one bite can transmit.
Kendra lost her family to Freak Day and its aftermath. No person can survive alone for long; luckily for Kendra, she has five reliable allies in Terry, Piranha, Sonia, Dean, and Darius. Even better, the six teens may have found the refuge they need in Domino Falls, one of the few towns to survive Freak Day.
Or they may not.
Domino Falls survived because its major industry was the production of sturdy fences. Alerted to the outbreak, the town had time to erect fortifications too tall for the infected to climb, too robust to be pushed over. Life within the fence may not be full of luxury, but at least it is free from Freak attacks.
Pressed to survive on the resources on hand, Domino Falls has a very limited capacity for charity. Children aside, newcomers must prove they are able to contribute to the community. Hard news for the old and infirm, who are allowed to camp outside the fence (a short reprieve before infection). The teens have better prospects; they are all young and healthy. Well, with the exception of poor myopic Piranha, whose supply of contact lenses is quickly running out1.
Each teen finds a suitable niche, a role that will justify their presence. This buys them enough time to recover from their adventures in Devil’s Wake and consider their next move. It also gives them enough time to take a long hard look at Domino Falls and to see problems that did not loom so large when the teens were tired and desperate for a refuge.
Former B‑star Josey Wales was a minor cult figure, leader of the so-called Threadies, long before Freak Day. After Freak Day, he parlayed his good luck at being in Domino Falls into a position of respect and power within the town. As long as Wales and his loyal Threadie cultists work to keep Domino Falls functioning, the non-Threadies are willing to turn a blind eye to Wales’ disquieting predilections, not least of which is Wales’ penchant for recruiting young, pretty women for his cult. Women who afterward vanish.
Kendra learns that she still has one living relative and that this relative can offer Kendra and her friends a safer place to live. No predatory cult leader. But there’s a catch. The teens need to reach the rendezvous in just two days. To do that, they need to get their van fixed. The price the mechanic demands: retrieve a missing teen from Wales’ cult.
All that stands between salvation and the teens is a foray into the heart of Wales’ stronghold, filled with loyal acolytes and secrets that Wales will kill to protect.
Communities in an intermediate volume of an ongoing survivalist series tend not to do well. Unless the story is going to be about how the community became the seed of the next cycle of civilization, the author is going to want to get the protagonists back out on the road again. How to do that: either overwhelm the town with some external threat — towns as secure as Domino Falls have suddenly fallen to Freaks — or to slowly reveal that the people running the town are as big a threat as the monsters outside the walls.
It should be noted that while Domino Falls may have its problems, it’s not nearly as horrible as a lot of the survivalist communities that show up in fiction. The town may be ablist (unlike the average paleolithic community, which [archaeologists tell us] took care of their old and infirm) but at least they are shown as feeling bad about having to be so cruel. Like that helps.
Although the focus is on Kendra, the supporting characters also have their own stories. Perhaps the saddest is that of the unfortunate Piranha, who allows his anxiety over his defective eyesight to sabotage his relationship with Sonia.
I sense that the authors are building towards some sort of climax. Freak Day wasn’t just a convenient way to divide the world into heroes and monsters. There was a reason why it happened when it did, a reason that has implications to be explored. Which presumably they do in the next volume, which I will have to track down. (No, no, please do not tell me the reason in comments.)
1: My editor asks “no glasses in Domino Falls?” As far as I can tell, glasses are off the teens’ radar, and Piranha in particular won’t ask, just in case myopia is enough to get him kicked out. It’s possible that there is a fully stocked LensCrafters in town (aside from contact lenses, which we know are in short supply).