What if a zombie apocalypse happened? What if more than just a pathogen caused it, and the ancient writings of several major religions held clues about how to deal with it? And what if the humans left alive on the planet evolved into capable leaders and family units and productive societies instead of psychotic, violent tyrants whose thirst for power is superseded only by their thirst for blood? I’d love to read a book like that. And thanks to author T Francis Sharp, I just did.
I’ve written quite a few reviews in my lifetime, and almost without exception I shy away from the trap of comparing one book to another, or a book to a TV series, or anything of that sort. But sometimes that’s not a “trap” at all, and to avoid it just for the sake of avoiding it does the review—and the book—an injustice. That’s the case here, because “The Walking Dead” has become such a phenomenon that my not mentioning it at all would seem awkward in the context of this book series.
I watched the first two seasons of TWD with almost childlike wonder, enthralled by the character-driven storylines and the sheer humanity of the writing. But then around season three, and definitely into seasons four and five, I slowly began to lose interest. Characters were becoming caricatures, plotting had become for-effect, and then Beth died. And while I understand the necessity of killing your darlings when telling a story, you can’t destroy the moral compass altogether unless you intend to rebuild it. And that may well be what TWD writers are trying to do in the latest seasons. I wouldn’t know. I quit watching.
But the fact remains that I was indeed very much captivated by TWD’s early episodes. So there’s a hunger in me for this type of speculative fiction, a desire to explore the “what-ifs” through entertainment. When I discovered “Second Dead,” I fell straightaway into that same zone of fascination with humanity that hooked me in the first seasons of TWD. These characters walk the walk. They bear up under pressure. Author T Francis Sharp doesn’t succumb, either, to the influence of pop culture to fill his pages with gratuitous violence, gore, sex, or characters stretched so far beyond the limits of believability that they don’t even seem human. He trusts his readers to identify with their humanity, and this reader most definitely did.
The novel’s point-of-view character is a seventeen-year-old half Asian girl born into a strong, cross-cultural family unit. She’s well adjusted, well-educated, and well-loved by every generation in her household. Yet this dynamic isn’t without conflicts; we see in the opening scene that tension exists between Anna and her sister, and we learn quickly that another sibling has recently died with some significant placing of blame. We learn about Nana, who has also passed away, but doesn’t seem entirely gone. Whatever cultural challenges the family may have once faced for being bi-racial disappeared when society fell. What’s left? A mother and wife who takes a moment to glance backward in time at the home she once took great pride in, now covered in layers of grime and piles of trash, a “pigsty,” according to one character—and with barely more than a sigh, just let it all go. Priorities have changed. It’s a new world now, and Good Housekeeping no longer has a place in it.
If I have one complaint about this novel, it’s a minor one. Sharp’s prose is lean and spare, sometimes to the detriment of worldbuilding. Occasionally I became spatially disoriented in the story, unable to set the stage in my mind. In the early chapters, I struggled to keep all the characters straight. A large number of them are introduced relatively quickly. But Sharp does a good job of making them distinct, using different personalities, different nationalities, different attitudes. By the halfway point of the book, I was square with all the players. And smitten with every one of them.
For any Walking Dead fans who find the endless violence and evil to be tedious and exhausting, this is a must-read book. For people who’ve shied away from post-apocalyptic or “zombie horror,” yet still think you could be interested in how a family copes with the end of society as we know it, you may want to give this one a try. As for me, I’m on to the sequel, “Blood Price.” And so far, so good with it, too.
(review of free book)