Plague Nation (Ashley Parker #2) by Dana Fredsti (Titan Books, April 2013)-Now that things in Redwood Grove have died down to a dull roar, Ashley Parker and the other wild cards are taking care of the stragglers, hoping to stop the terrifying virus that’s been turning people into flesh eating shamblers. Ashley’s also a bit confused about the treatment she’s getting from Gabriel, who’s giving her some pretty serious attitude. She thought they had something between them, and is determined to confront him as soon as she can get some downtime from zombie killin’. Unfortunately, reports are coming in from all over the country: the virus is spreading, and after a disaster nearly destroys the wild card’s headquarters, it also compromises the research for the cure. The team must get to San Francisco if they have any hope of finding a cure, and this time, they have more than zombies to worry about. Sometimes,actually, the zombies are the least of your worries. Someone is determined to keep the team from getting to San Francisco, and they’ll do anything to stop them.
Plague Town, the first Ashley Parker novel, was a delightful surprise, and I couldn’t wait for Plague Nation. In it, we have a more sobered, matured Ashley, but she hasn’t lost her sense of humor, or her fondness for movie quotes. Along with the other wild cards, Ashley is immune to the virus, and as a happy side effect, she has heightened senses that make her a pretty fierce fighter. Put a katana in her hand, and she’s a fireball. While I love zombie novels, what makes these stand out is Fredsti delivers all the thrills that zombie aficionados look for, without ever resorting to cliché. In the wild cards, she’s built a smart, cohesive team, and although the story is told from Ashley’s view, each member of the team is given a history, and their own story. I also find her world, one in which the virus is just beginning to take hold and spread, fascinating. Ashley’s world isn’t post-apocalyptic…yet, and there’s still a chance to stop it. Interwoven with Ashley’s narrative are short vignettes that give us a glimpse into events in other parts of the country. They also give us a peek at a very human evil that doesn’t think zombie apocalypse is a bad thing at all, and that’s pretty terrifying.
Ashley Parker is sympathetic, smart, tough, and wickedly witty, and Plague Nation didn’t suffer any of the sophomore slump that you sometimes see in a 2nd book. It really does focus on the emotional reality that comes along with events such as this. As they make their way to San Francisco (part of the way on foot), Ashley is very conflicted by the fact that she can’t save everyone, and must watch as people, including families, are cut down in front of her. You’ll also want to brace yourself for a few shocks in this one that I didn’t see coming. One of them even had me exclaiming out loud. I like it when authors take risks, though, and frequently, they open doors to other, equally interesting storylines, so never fear, you won’t be steered wrong, although you will be steered right into the action, so saddle up, because Ashley’s zombie-infested, rapidly unraveling world is one you’ll want to revisit, and if you think you know where this one is going, think again. If you love horror, zombies, a wise-cracking heroine, a hint of romance, and plenty of chills and thrills, topped off with assured writing, this series is for you! Good thing Plague World is in the works, huh?