Review by Stephen Theaker
The first few chapters of this zombie YA novel are quite run-of-the-mill. Alyx, a seventeen-year-old girl, is desperate to help her poorly younger brother. Back in 2042 or so their parents were eaten by zombies – the Infected – which have successfully taken over the world, leaving humans eking out life in small villages, at risk of being overrun. Alyx has sneaked into the woods to look for medicine. It all feels overfamiliar, as if at every step the decision was made to follow the most obvious route. Then, after his infection is discovered and they are forced to run for their lives, and just when Alyx is ready to send her brother up the stairs to metaphorical Bedfordshire one last time, something unexpected happens. The boy doesn’t turn into a zombie, he morphs…
That was definitely a surprise. Unfortunately, it doesn’t herald an improvement in the book. It reads like a Nanowrimo first draft, full of conventional phrasing, first-thought-in-your-head plotting, and clumsy writing (“A cold shiver trickles down my spine, which instantly makes me shudder in response”) – perhaps because it was originally self-published episodically on Wattpad. The characters riffle, rifle and rummage through their backpacks so often that you wish they would just sit down and organise them properly. At one point Alyx realises she has a broken rib, but hasn’t been bitten, and says, “I have never been so pleased to crack a rib in my life”, as if that’s an everyday occurrence.
It feels as if the characters have got stuck in an early part of the novel plan, since most of the book is spent in the first opposition they encounter upon leaving their village: the bulk of it is about Alyx’s attempt to rescue their uncle from soldiers who have arrested him for desertion. The book ends when they get away, but nothing is resolved, we’ve found out very little about the boy’s morphing ability, and it feels like the story stops there for no other reason than that’s where the book ends.
It’s all so shallow. A man sexually assaults Alyx, and then the book has her immediately snogging another guy who comes to help, outdoors, in her underwear. She shoots someone, leaves him bleeding and locked up in a storage container (justifiably so), and no one ever mentions it again. And while it’s written in the first person, it’s hard to empathise with her when she’s so irresponsible, sneaking someone she knows is to some extent infected into a human colony, or pressing a gun against the forehead of an ally because they won’t answer a question. She lets herself be convinced very easily by her best friend Will that it doesn’t matter if innocent soldiers die during their escape (“I would rather die trying with even the smallest hope that we have the cure than to save a few soldiers who are willing to die for the same cause anyway”) – especially shocking when you consider that she and Will and her brother are not prisoners and could leave at any time.
On the plus side, the chapters are short, making it a convenient book for reading in short bursts, the chapters usually end at a dramatic point, and there is unintentional humour from the inappropriate grinning and chirpiness (“I’m fresh outta ideas!”) but this isn’t a book I would recommend. Two stars.