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Plague Town – Dana Fredsti

Titan Books £6.99 available now
Review By David Stonehouse

Dana Fredsti is an actress and writer with a bit of zombie fighting form. She has the very enviable boast of having played a minor character (‘sword-fighter’ no less) alongside the living legend that is Bruce Campbell in Sam Raimi’s brilliant Evil Dead movie ‘Army of Darkness’. To be honest, that’s enough cool points to make me pay attention to anybody and if she wants to write a new series of zombie apocalypse adventures then that’s fine by me.

Plague Town is the debut adventure for Ashley Parker, a feisty new heroine plucked from small town American obscurity to save the day when the dead start walking and munching on anyone stupid enough to stumble into their path. Fredsti knows her zombie essentials and she delivers all the conventions fans of the genre will expect. Ashley is a twenty something trying to restart her life after a messy divorce by enrolling as a student in the small university town of Redwood Grove. All is not well in the little town as an outbreak of the dangerous Walker’s flu has affected a large number of the population. Unfortunately there’s another virus out there that mimics the flu strain but kills its victims. Even more unfortunately these victims don’t stop moving just because they’re dead. No, before you know it they’re up and lurching, driven by the mindless need to feast on human flesh.

In best zombie tradition Ashley is making out with her boyfriend in the woods when they are attacked by the hungry undead. Both are bitten but, while the boyfriend quickly becomes a zombie, Ashley recovers and awakes to find herself in a military compound. It turns out that a tiny minority of bite victims survive infection and gain heightened almost super-human abilities. The military are rounding up these ‘wild-cards’ to use them as a weapon against the undead.

It takes no time at all before the entire town has been zombified and the whole area has been quarantined by the government. The little gang of wild-cards and the military inside the quarantine zone are left to clean up the mess before the powers that be decide that enough is enough and scorch the whole town to the ground.

You’ve probably spotted that original ideas are not thick on the ground here. This is a zombie story for people who know what they like and what they want. So we get a string of set pieces where small numbers of brave heroes find themselves trapped in tight corners fighting for their lives against seemingly endless waves of the zombie hordes. There are gung-ho hero types, not-to-be-trusted military brass, clever scientists and a rather icky romance with dodgy love interest Gabriel. However, while this book treads a lot of familiar ground it does it well. The adventure builds nicely, the set pieces are exciting and the grim stuff is as gruesome and unpleasant as you’d expect. Heads pop, foul goo leaks, mutant children get splattered etc etc

Fredsti knows her horror and sci-fi stuff inside out and there are endless references to, and quotes from, everyone’s favourite classic monster movies. This proves to be both a strength and a weakness. Sometimes the throwaway quotes are pitch perfect, creating exactly the right mood and helping to ramp up the tension. The flipside is that sometimes they feel forced and clunky and in some places are actually so silly they threaten to undermine the whole thing. A particularly duff moment involves the rookie wild-cards watching classic zombie films as part of their training and, later, when they go out into the field they give themselves call-sign names lifted straight from the movies.

Zombies in Plague Town are of the old school variety. They stumble slowly after their prey and only become a threat when they surprise someone up close or swarm in such huge numbers that they overwhelm any defences. I’d have liked to see a bit more of the fast-moving threat seen in more modern movies like 28 Days Later. Fredsti explains the lurching by saying the infected are dead and rotting which is fair enough but surely a recently turned and fairly fresh one would have a bit more of a turn of speed. It’s a bit of a nit-picking point but those sort of niggles start to mount up. For example, our heroes are abandoned to fight off the zombies that congregate outside the base but you do start to wonder why they can’t just call in a well placed airstrike and incinerate the lot of them.

Plague Town doesn’t do anything to challenge or invigorate the zombie genre but it is fast-paced and exciting and Fredsti handles the undead action very well. Ashley Parker is a likeable heroine narrating in the first person and she proves good company through a series of entertainingly gory scrapes.
If you’re a fan of the old school zombie classics like Day of the Dead then you’ll enjoy this and if you’re not you probably won’t give it a second glance anyway. However, if it does grab you then you’ll be pleased to know that there are another two Ashley Parker adventures on the way. If you’re wondering whether the next instalments will do something a bit more innovative then the titles will tell you everything you need to know. Coming soon are Plague Nation and Plague World. Hmm. Probably not then.

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