Souza’s debut horror novel, the first of a proposed trilogy, tells the story of a small band of people in Maine holed up in a house and fighting to keep genetically mutated creatures at bay.
Famous novelist Thom Swiftley and his daughter, Dar, drive from Boston to see Thom’s brother, Rick, a noted scientist working on an isolated farm. Sickly livestock is merely the beginning of the carnage, as dead animals come back to life with a bite that results in eventual death—and the deceased return to life as stalking human/animal hybrids. Soon, others take refuge at Rick’s place, which is largely cut off from the world, while Thom just wants to make it back home to his wife and son. The author’s novel has traits of a zombie story—an endless onslaught of the living dead, survivors in a confined space and an implicit apocalypse—but he avoids yielding to formula by employing some creative spins. There are no true zombies, but rather infected beasts or transmogrified crossbreeds, and not all of them stagger around like ghouls; a number of creatures, mutated by birds, can even fly. Sometimes, the novel feels cluttered with ideas—Thom’s faith pitted against Rick’s science-based beliefs; scientific experimentation; global chaos in the wake of an economic collapse; creatures representing a potential next step in evolution, etc.—that could have been more gradually introduced and developed more deeply in subsequent volumes in the series. Thom, often with his family in mind, is mostly sympathetic, but Dar—a teenage girl who had attempted suicide shortly before the animals began attacking—is harder to like, as her strength never quite outweighs her immaturity; she resists authority, insisting that she’s misunderstood, just like any other teenager. The most impressive attribute is Souza’s well-thought-out setting, particularly during the winter months, when piles of snow keep the creatures at a distance and a bitter cold freezes the corpses. Readers may also appreciate the wily foreshadowing and a remark made about a college professor turning students into “liberal zombies.”
Sure to sate readers hungry for an old-fashioned zombie story that takes a few steps beyond standard fare.