05 December, 2010

Review: State of Decay, by James Knapp

State of Decay [US][UK], by James Knapp is the first installment in a near-future dystopian zombie trilogy aptly named Revivors. Darkly compelling and deviously plotted, State of decay is a mind bending zombie adventure that will please noir crime/thriller and genre fans alike.

My experience with zombie lit is sadly limited. My most notable (and only) foray into the genre was with Max Brooks in World War Z - the opus of zombie literature. All this to say that State of Decay is not your typical smash and bash zombie survival adventure. It aspires to, and achieves more than that. Dark and dystopian, the zombie aspect of the novel is secondary to the human controversy.

State of Decay takes place in an authoritarian future in which it seems that everyone is at war with, well, everyone. Technology, ever the friend of the military, is used to reanimate the dead and send them right back to the front line. Society is highly hierarchical; greater rights and privileges are accorded to those who 'donate' their bodies after death to become "revivors".

The novel is fairly unique in that it takes time to explore some of the murkier waters of the zombie sub-genre. Since becoming a revivor is generally a voluntary process, one in which you retain your memories and identity, the morality of act and its attendant consequences are given a front row seat. The first test-case that readers encounter is that of a black market female revivor sex slave, revived against her will. I wasn't kidding when I said the novel was dark...

Meet the four protagonists: the badass ex-military hero turned FBI superstar; the driven yet tormented cop; the gritty and down on her luck boxer with a personality that resembles a shot of whisky; and the young and frail junky who is more than she seems. All in all a well rounded cast of characters that keep the plot rolling along at a respectable clip.

The major plot arc, which I will not spoiler, is essentially the intersection of hero FBI agent's investigation and the tormented cop's case. Did I mention they have a romantic history? Of further uniqueness in the novel is the intersection of the zombie sub-genre and the psychic sub-genre, if it can even be termed such. The contrast between the purely scientific revivor and the more ephemeral powers of the psychic makes for some dazzling plot twists that are sure to surprise.

As the James Knapp has mentioned, the trilogy is divided into three distinct parts, which fits with my reading of the first book:
The book, and the trilogy as a whole, is what I intended it to be and I don’t think I could ask for anything more. Putting all the world-building and character development aside, it’s a three part tale: The first book uncovers an unpleasant truth, the second is about choosing sides, and the third is about fighting for what you believe in. I’m satisfied with the symmetry of it, I like where my characters ended up, and I feel now that the story has been told.
I enjoyed the fact that Mr. Knapp made the zombie theme his own and chose to make fun of some of the genres preconceptions. Insatiable thirst for human flesh? There's a chip for that - upgrade you zombie today! Well, the fun was a bit more subtle than that, but you get the idea.

State of Decay is recommended for the zombie naive, the noir obsessed, and the genre fan generally. It isn't a perfect book, but it was perfectly enjoyable - take the jump for a concisely precise review of State of Decay that is decidedly more balanced than mine. I am anxious to dig into The Silent Army [US][UK] and see what the fates have in store for our unlikely heroes.


Bryce L. said...

Sounds like a good spin on zombies. I'll have to check this out.