I was pretty critical of the first book in Mira Grant’s zombie-tastic Newsflesh trilogy, Feed. The second book, Deadline, was everything I wanted Feed to be. It was a tighter story, it relied less on clever tricks and more on great storytelling, the characters were richer and deeper, and the whole book was cleaner and felt more intentional.
There are a few mild spoilers in this review, but I don’t give away the big twists. There are a few spoilers for Feed. I’m currently reading World War Z, so there will be some comparisons with plot points from that novel, as well.
The Newsflesh world is set several decades in the future, after a zombie apocalypse. The story is told from the perspective of a group of young adults who have emerged as the ultimate new media, bloggers with 24-hour news and information sites. After Grant killed off the leader and another prominent member of the previous book’s Scooby gang, several secondary characters are brought to the forefront in Deadline. The group is now lead by Shaun Mason, the troubled surviving brother of Feed’s narrator, Georgia “George” Mason, and the story is told in first person from his perspective. Each new chapter is introduced with a blog post by one or more members of the team, including several “unpublished” pieces by George. I was critical of the first person narrator choice in Feed, but most blogs are in the first person, the choice makes more sense than I previously gave it credit for.
Throughout Deadline, Shaun is haunted by and has regular conversations with the memory of his dead sister. Had I read and reviewed this book five years ago, I would have scoffed. After a series of really difficult losses of my own, it seems completely plausible. Grant doesn’t treat Shaun with kid gloves, and she’s not afraid to let him be a real tool at several points in the book. He’s a great protagonist, because he’s evolving and adapting as fast as the plot. Georgia was already fairly self-actualized, and that made her boring. Shaun is raw and messy, that makes him fascinating. Grant is more comfortable in the gray areas of Deadline than she was in Feed, and I think the narrator switch helped her a great deal. In the first book, the main villain was over the top, and the motivations of the inevitable betrayer, somewhat appropriately named “Buffy,” were fuzzy. In Deadline, the villains are both more complex and much more scary.
As I mentioned above, I’m currently reading World War Z, by Max Brooks. As a novel, it’s a completely different beast than Deadline, but they share a common theme. Even in a zombie apocalypse, the real villains are human. Brooks and Grant illustrate this differently, but the message is the same. In Grant’s case, the zombies aren’t nearly as scary as the humans, and even the protagonists are more driven by their fear of becoming zombies themselves than they are of running into a shambling mob. In World War Z, the zombies are keep-you-awake-at-night scary, and so are the humans. The Newsflesh trilogy takes place decades after the worst of the undead uprising, while WWZ is right in the middle of the action, which I’m sure accounts for more of Grant’s characters’ nonchalance, but it’s still a notable difference in tone.
In Deadline, the gang is in pursuit of a giant secret, held by the CDC. It’s a doozy, and the hunt leads them to several other big secrets, including one that’s probably fairly obvious once the newest member of their group reveals her origins. I’m waiting until Blackout, the third and final book in the series, to decide how I feel about it. I’m also pretty sure I can’t even speculate here without spoiling the twist.
I also criticized Feed for depending too heavily on pop culture references from the present day. I’m very pleased to say that Grant doesn’t rely on nearly as many of them in Deadline as she did in Feed, and the handful she used were used very well.
In the credits, Grant speaks very highly of a friend and editor who helped her with Deadline, but not Feed. I’d like to recommend that Grant hold on to this editor, as she is the Cinna to Grant’s Katniss. Feed was a good story crippled by sloppy presentation, Deadline is a great story made better by focus, attention to detail and a clear plan.
I’d definitely recommend Deadline, and I’m more likely to recommend Feed with the hope the reader would stick it out and read Deadline, too. I’m really looking forward to reading Blackout, as well, and it’s going to be hard to wait until next summer or later to get my hands on it.
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