It is only right that I start by declaring an interest in Plague World, as I am mentioned in the book’s acknowledgements. However, I have endeavoured to write a fair and unbiased review.
Plague World is the third novel in Dana Fredsti’s Ashley Parker series, which follows the heroine as she seeks to stems the tide of the zombie epidemic – called “Walker’s Flu” – as it sweeps the world. In the earlier novels, Ashley discovers she is one of a miniscule number of people immune to the virus, called “wild cards”. Now Ashley and her fellow wild cards race against time to rescue the only scientists who are capable of finding a cure, and in so doing discovers secrets hidden within the organization that she now works for.
Despite a broader and deeper story than Plague Town and Plague World, Dana continues to write with a distinctly humorous streak, including an abundance of geek and pop-culture references. Some might find this leaves the text feeling unbalanced, but for me it makes the horror all the more shocking, as the levity and humour puts the reader off-guard before dropping them in the middle of a gruesome scene.
Given the strong female protagonist, the Ashley Parker novels could be considered as the zombie answer to girl-power and, like the Resident Evil films, it makes for a refreshing change from the traditionally male lead character.
Despite some scenes contemplating what makeup Ashley is wearing, Plague World remains a zombie horror novel, and Dana Fredsti does not hold back. There was one scene in particular that even had me cringing: Dana’s writing shows the true scale of the horror that the wild-cards face, but without ever being gratuitous.
One aspect that I particularly enjoy about Dana Fredsti’s writing is her engaging humour. She is unafraid to proliferate her books with geek references. As is traditional, Dana opens Plague World with a quote from the greatest John Carpenter movie of all time: Big Trouble in Little China.
Interspaced between chapters were a series of interludes which showed scenes of the zombie epidemic from around the world. Whilst these vignettes occasionally disrupted the flow of the core narrative, they nonetheless emphasised the global scale of the zompocalypse, and the novel would have felt too localised to West Coast America without them.
Some of the secondary characters in Plague Town and Plague Nation were left short-changed due to space, but here in Plague World they are fleshed out to give a greater depth to their personalities. Do not become too attached to the characters, as the Sword of Damocles is hanging over their heads. Dana has obviously been taking lessons from George R.R. Martin, as she is soon laying waste to some of our favourite characters in her series.
These deaths serve to reinforce that whilst the wild-cards are immune to the virus, they are not immortal. We are also introduced to new characters, and whilst some of them felt like token red-shirts (one is called such), the bikers were a joy to read. Reading the previous novels first would be helpful, but not essential.