The Undying by Ethan Reid (Simon451, Oct. 7th, 2014)-The apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic genre is very, very crowded right now, and for good reason. It’s a fascinating setup for a story, but it can make finding good ones hard. I found a good one in The Undying, Ethan Reid’s debut novel, and one of the first books from S&S’s new SFF imprint Simon451. The Undying starts at the end, well, not really the end, but it takes place some time after the events of the book, but this didn’t bother me a bit, although it does give a big clue as to what may or may not become of some of the principal characters. The focus is on young Jeanie, whose mother bought her a trip to Paris in hope it might help her emerge from the grieving that she’s been mired in since her beloved father’s death. She brings along her friend Ben, who she adores, and happens to be in love with Jeanie. They meet up with Jeanie’s friend Zou Zou and her friend Farid as soon as they hit Paris, and the trip seems to be off to a roaring start, just in time for New Year’s Eve, no less…until the EMP hits.
Ben and Jeanie wake up to a city in chaos. Buildings are collapsing and people are panicking, but a scientist (whose wife is due to give birth in a local hospital) staying in the same hotel as Jeanie and Ben are able to give them a good idea of what might be happening, and they set out in hopes of meeting up with Zou Zou, and making some sense of the chaos. Jeanie also feels obligated to check on the scientist’s wife and baby. The scene on the street is not a good one, as you can imagine. There are fireballs. Fireballs. You might think this is bad enough, and it is, but Reid throws some more fun in the mix, in the form of a group of scumbags who seem to be after Jeanie and Ben for just being American, and then there are the pale, feral, used-to-be human creatures that are creeping around eating people (which Jeanie eventually comes to call the moribund.) Jeanie sees them first, and thinks she’s hallucinating, until they start making themselves known, and very visible.
Based on the info from the scientist, the temperature could be rising fast, so Jeanie feels like they should make their way underground, and after joining up with Zou Zou and Farid, that’s what they do, via the ancient catacombs that run beneath Paris (The Catacombes de Paris.) These are actually ossuaries that hold the remains of about 6 million people. Six million people. Sorry, that just kind of blows my mind. Imagine how creepy this is just for WHAT it is, but also with the fear that those things are roaming around down there. It’s terrifying, and Reid makes terrific use of it. Also, and this is something that I supposed should be mentioned, Jeanie does actually locate the scientist’s baby and she’s forced to care for him herself (to the chagrin of Ben). She also has to take the baby (you know, those cute little things that CRY), down in the catacombs. With those things. Those things that seem to have great hearing. There’s a very tense scene down there that will have you riveted. Trust me, you’ll know it when you read it.
We never quite know what the cause of the collapse is, but a few ideas are thrown around, mainly from a rather creepy little self- styled despot that shares some of his theories, and “experiments” with Jeanie (to her horror), but Jeanie has made it her mission to survive, and to keep little baby Rennie alive, at all costs. I have no doubt that the cause of the disaster will be more explained in future books, and I’m good with that. This is an action packed book, but really, it’s about Jeanie not only surviving, but coming to terms with her father’s death, which nearly destroyed her. Suffice it to say that Jeanie is not quite the hopeful, cautiously optimistic girl that arrives in Paris on New Year’s Eve by the end of the book. She’s a different person, but a much stronger one, and I had a blast toughing out the onset of the apocalypse with her. Ben…not so much. She adores him, but he mainly makes a nuisance of himself, complains quite a lot, and makes a hobby of leaving her in the lurch. I get that people respond to trauma differently, but Ben made me want to slap him, frequently and hard. That’s ok, though, because much braver stuff is to be found in Zou Zou and Farid. The Undying is a very solid and exciting debut from an author to watch, and if you’re in the mood for something scary (the moribund are very, very scary, and a break from zombie fare), then this will fit the bill. Nicely done!