Book Review: Plague Town / Author: Dana Fredsti / Format: Paperback / Publisher: Titan Books / Release Date: Out Now
Originally self-published under the title ‘Ashley Drake: Zombie Hunter’, Dana Fredsti’s Plague Town (the first in a proposed trilogy) is a fast, furious and extremely unsubtle zombie apocalypse (or ‘zombocalypse’ as one smart-mouthed character describes it) novel which you’ll find yourself racing through at a rate of knots despite the nagging feeling that it’s really not very good and your time might be better spent reading something else.
This is, in essence, Buffy the Zombie Slayer. Fredsti’s straight-talking heroine is a twenty-nine year-old divorcee studying at an unassuming college in an unassuming American town. There’s a nasty bout of flu, dubbed ‘Walker’s (it’s not transmitted by crisps, by the way) doing the rounds but fortunately the feisty Ashley has shrugged it off. Not everyone’s so lucky. As more and more people succumb to the virus its unpleasant side-effects become apparent and… yep, you guessed it, the dead start walking. And, of course, they’re hungry.
Ashley escapes an encounter with the undead (the novel happily calls them zombies) despite being attacked and bitten. Rushed to a military compound set up at the college, Ashley discovers that she and a few other stereotypes are actually ‘wild cards’; the virus has given them the ability to shrug off the infection transmitted by zombie bite, their reflexes and strength are increased, they heal quickly. Ashley and her comrades are tasked with wiping out all the zombies in the quarantined area to prevent the infection spreading out into the wider world.
This is trashy stuff and yet it’s hard not to admit, albeit grudgingly, that, within its genre, it’s quite well done. Fredsti’s action sequences are fast and furious, hugely cinematic, as Ashley and her team slice and dice their way through various zombie hordes, wading through gore and viscera with happy abandon. They’re all wise-cracking as they do it; the book is full of Whedon-lite smart-mouthed dialogue - wearisomely smart-mouthed at times - and Fredsti’s content to acknowledge the derivative nature of her text by throwing in an abundance of pop culture references. At one point the wild cards bone up on zombie lore by watching Fulci and Romero movies, elsewhere there are references to Sy Fy original movies, Tremors (one supporting character is a Bert Gummeresque survivalist and is even referred to as such) and even The Walking Dead itself.
Fredsti has threaded the inevitable conspiracy theories into her text; there have been previous zombie virus outbreaks, apparently, the most (in)famous being at Pompeii (where the volcano was somehow ‘triggered’ as means of stemming the disease) and Atlantis which destroyed itself rather than allow an outbreak to spread across the world. Fanciful if imaginative stuff. Far more intriguing are the hints that some survivors may be carrying the virus but holding its effects at bay and suggestions that the authorities know more about the virus and its spread than they’re letting on. Doubtless these are subplots which will be developed in the next volume, as well as Ashley’s tempestuous relationship with the “Adonis-physiqued” Gabriel.
Plague Town isn’t exactly great literature but then it’s not supposed to be. Zombie fan Fredsti knows her stuff and she’s having fun here playing with the conventions of a recently much-plundered genre. She does it with frenetic, sassy style and an enthusiasm for her characters and their dilemma which can’t help but carry the reader along in its wake. Plague Town is a fun, undemanding, page-turning read.