Short take: It had a lot of potential.
Quick note: I was gifted a free copy of this story in exchange for an honest review.
The Zombie Apocalypse. It’s huge right now. Books, movies, tv, the undead are everywhere. Which means that there’s very little new material to be found anymore. Zombies used to walk slowly, then they moved fast…. and that’s about all the genre has progressed in the last few decades. So I’ll admit that while I was skeptical going into this one (another zombie book? really?) I thought the premise was a fun one – normal person having to team up with terrible co-worker to save her sister – and so I dove in.
Survival opens right in the middle of the action, as Sarah and her twin sister Dana are being held in a basement somewhere in Fort Worth, Texas, by a few men with guns who are threatening to feed them to the zombies. Sarah manages to escape, and, promising to return for Dana, seeks out her workplace arch nemesis. Meredith may be a difficult coworker, but her husband has lots of guns, and Sarah sure could use a few of those.
Upon arriving at Meredith’s, however, Sarah finds out that Meredith has cancer and is currently suffering from a particularly brutal round of chemotherapy. She loads up Meredith, and the guns, and goes out into a new and terrifying world where she needs to save her sister and possibly the rest of the human race.
So. What did I think of this story? As I mentioned above, the zombie genre has been done to undeath. For a story to really hit me as a standout, it needs to have something different. Because the basic plot of all zombie stories is the same (the few humans that are left have to fight the zombies and sometimes each other for survival), the “oh, this is GOOD” point for me tends to be well-drawn characters, cool dialogue, maybe an unexpected twist or two, something that I haven’t already seen a dozen times. And I hate to say it, but I just didn’t get that with Survival.
There’s a lot of exterior action in this one (zombies! gore!), but the characters have no internal world. For example, Sarah is the heroine of the story, but all we know about her for 95% of the story is that she has a twin sister, and she used to work with Meredith, whom she didn’t like. It’s stated at one point that Meredith used to make her work life difficult, and make Sarah feel inferior, but we’re never given any examples of this. And she’s also some kind of… action hero? Maybe? She knows how to fight and kick bad guys’ butts and use guns and break things, but not till the very last scene do we get a tiny bit of background on how Sarah learned some of the ninja skills she uses.
It’s also not until the last page that we find out where Sarah and Meredith worked and what they did. It’s still never entirely clear if they were in competition with each other or if Meredith was the one who ALWAYS took the last yogurt out of the fridge or didn’t bother refilling the coffee pot or cleaned her teeth at her desk or any number of other things that drive people crazy when they are forced to spend hours a day in close proximity. And other than the fact that Meredith was nasty because she was jealous (spoiler alert! Everyone loves Sarah because of course they do, she’s perfect), we still don’t get a feel for the history that would’ve made the partnership between these two interesting.
Meredith’s cancer also seems awkwardly shoved in. Were Meredith still healthy, or at least feisty and rude, it would’ve created an interesting dynamic between the two women, but immediately Sarah jumps into the role of caretaker and protector, and Meredith limply agrees. There’s no tension, no “Oh I am so going to leave this beyotch for the zombies if she says ONE MORE WORD about her marble countertops…” Nothing.
I feel that Ms. Hopkins had a really great setup here. Although it is kind of formulaic, the “people who can’t stand each other have to team up to accomplish something important” thing can be a lot of fun. When the people involved bicker, they can bring some humor to the situation, or toss out exposition, or do both in a way that feels organic.
For example, had Meredith started doing… whatever it is that Meredith does that Sarah can’t stand, Sarah could’ve thrown back something along the lines of “You know, when I was a kid my cousin Brian taught me twenty-seven ways to break a kneecap, and I haven’t used 26 of them yet today. Unless you’d like to make it 25, I’d cut the crap right now!” (*Nerd’s Note: I fully admit that there are many good reasons why I’m not a writer. This paragraph should be Exhibit A.)
In the end, I feel like there was a lot more story in the author’s mind than what made it onto the page, and it suffered for that.
The Nerd’s Rating: TWO HAPPY NEURONS