2012’sDevil’sWakeis the first volume in Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due’s Devil’sWakeseries.
Itdidn’t take long for the plague of angry ghouls to sweep across America,because to be bitten by one of the infected is to become one of theinfected. There is no cure and there is no vaccine. The only reliableprophylaxis is preparedness or simple dumb luck.
Givenenough time, even the prepared run into something unexpected. Giventime, the best luck in the world runs out.
Kendrawasn’t prepared but her Grandpa Joe was. That was enough to keepher alive. It was not enough to save her father or her mother. Amomentary misjudgment allows one of the infected to bite Kendra’sgrandfather. The fungal parasite spreads quickly through his body; hebarely has time to tell Kendra to flee to safety.
Theother protagonists (Terry, Piranha, Sonia, Darius, and Dean) gotlucky. Offered the choice of consignment to the juvenile justicesystem or spending the summer herding kids (children, not goats) atRound Meadows Camp, the Round Meadows Five chose camp. That meantthey had a safe refuge in which to wait out the apocalypse sweepingthe US1…at least for a time. They are not sure that they will be able tosurvive winter in the isolated and unprepared camp, so head out insearch of another refuge.
Kendraand the Five’s paths soon cross. Joining forces only makes sense.Even so, there seems to be little hope. A few communities are stillholding out against the infection, but they are not necessarilyequitable or pleasant communities. Life out in the plague zone isworse. Bandits roam the roads, looking for victims, and the infectedare everywhere. What to do?
Iam very uncomfortable with the decision the authors made to blame theplague on (in part) a dodgy batch of vaccine.
Thekids are not in a position to provide a bird’s eye view of theoutbreak, but it seems to me that the apocalypse may well have beencontained to the US or at least North America. No one manufacturercontrols the vaccine market, even in the US. It’s at least possiblenobody in other continents, or islands, was exposed to both the faddiet and the dodgy vaccine that combined to trigger the outbreak.It’s also possible that the fungal infection has a limitedtolerance for cold.
Becauseof the tight focus on the kids, it’s hard to tell if this book fitsthe Canadian pattern of post-apocalyptic stories (communities cometogether) or the US model (the whole world descends into anarchy).What we see is a little of both. The sequel presumably casts somelight on the question.
Manybooks have been written about zombie apocalypses. So many books, sofew tropes. So it is reasonable to ask if thisbook stands out from the shambling, moaning crowd.
IMHO,Barnes and Due manage to do so, in large part thanks to their choiceof protagonists. While the Round Meadows Five may be petty criminalsor have anger management issues, all of them — all six once theyencounter Kendra2—willdo their best to keep their friends and allies alive. They areessentially decent kids. A bit of sunshine in the apocalyptic gloom.
Barnesand Due also avoid the clichéd suspense of picking off the kids oneby one, just to convince us that anyone could die at any time. I didcare about the characters, and I did worry about them3,but notbecause of cheap narrative tricks.
Pleasedirect corrections to jdnicoll at panix dot com
1:It’s never a good thing to be an adult in a YA book. Camp ownersVern and Molly are early victims of the plague.
2:Seven after they rescue Ursalina. I didn’t see how I couldintroduce her without giving away too much of the rest of the plot.
3:There was one character in particular I thought might be sacrificedto the Smurfette Principle;formuch of the book, Sonia and Kendra are the only girls and Soniawas the one girl to be sexually active. I won’t tell you whether ornot she survived, but I can assure you that her fate was in no way anexception.