I advise against reading this review if you haven’t yet read Mira Grant’s Feed, the first volume in her Newsflesh trilogy, but intend to. The review necessarily contains spoilers, without which discussing the second volume, Deadline, would be impossible.
Deadline (2011) picks up several months after the end of Feed (2010). The first-person narrator, Shaun Mason, is not the same since the death of his sister by his hand, after she had been infected by the virus that causes one to become a zombie. Not only is he no longer an Irwin (a journalist who courts danger, usually by going out into the field to poke zombies with a stick, named after Steve Irwin, the Australian wildlife expert who tempted death by interacting with dangerous wildlife and died in 2006 after being pierced in the chest by a stingray); he also is haunted by his dead sister. George (she was rarely called Georgia by anyone) resides in the back of Shaun’s head, having regular conversations with him. She never comes up with any knowledge that Shaun doesn’t already possess, so we know this is a form of madness rather than a genuine haunting — something you can never take for granted when reading a fantasy or horror novel. But George does tend to assemble facts a bit differently than Shaun normally would, and to prod him into action as the now singular head of the After the End Times website.
Unfortunately for Shaun’s new desire to avoid direct interaction with zombies, the book opens with his involuntary return to the field to save two of his employees from a mob of the undead. The blogging world greets this Irwin behavior with something like joy — especially the other Irwins on his staff, who all hope to arrange a joint outing with him. Shaun is less than pleased that the world won’t leave him alone about this, but fairly soon that’s the least of his worries. A visitor from the Centers for Disease Control — pretty much the most important organization in existence since the Rising, when the zombies first appeared due to the interaction of two other viruses (one designed to cure the common cold, the other to cure cancer) — arrives to give the After the End Times crew bad news about the conspiracy that killed George in Feed. Bottom line: the conspiracy is worse than anyone thought. More specifically, those who are in power appear to be holding back a possible cure.
To keep the conspiracy going, the power-hungry people running it must ensure that the After the End Times folks aren’t around to stick their noses into what the CDC and the World Health Organization are up to. And that, in turn, means that mayhem quickly descends on the news crew — and never lets up for the remainder of the book. In fact, the mayhem continuously escalates with each new chapter, and the reader is constantly on the edge of her chair, waiting to see who gets killed next, and how.
Deadline feels much shorter than its 600+ page length: the pace is usually frantic, even when the crew is holed up in a secure hideaway. You might tell yourself that you’re going to stop reading and go fix dinner when you reach the end of the next chapter, but you’re likely to find yourself three chapters farther on and an hour late chopping the onion because you just couldn’t stop, not without knowing what happened next.
Unfortunately, the book ends on twin cliffhangers, and the concluding book in the trilogy, Blackout, isn’t due to be published until May 2012. One of those cliffhangers comes close to destroying the suspension of disbelief the reader has thus far had no trouble giving Grant; it will require some serious explanation if she is to maintain the scientific credibility she has thus far established for the way this virus originated and works. It speaks volumes about the quality of both Feed and Deadline that the reader feels confident Grant will be able to pull it off — and is counting down the months until Blackout arrives.
Picture me enthusiastically nodding and agreeing with everything Terry wrote about Deadline, and you’ll basically have my reactions: the tension is unbelievable, the characters are so lifelike and compelling that you’ll weep and rage along with them, the book itself is nearly impossible to put down. I honestly didn’t think Deadline would be better than Feed, but by expanding the plot from “following a single Republican U.S. presidential candidate” to “charging around the country, tracking down leads and nefarious deeds,” Mira Grant reveals the wide-reaching effects of the Kellis-Amberlee virus on the countryside and its inhabitants, and it’s devastating to even imagine those changes.
Additionally, changing the perspective from George to Shaun gives a more impulsive, hands-on proactivity to the narrative, keeping the reader on their toes. We’ve seen how Newsie George might rationalize her reaction to a zombie attack — what about an Irwin in the field? What about an Irwin who is afraid to go out into the field and holds lengthy conversations with his dead sister? Shaun’s difficulties coping with life after what he had to do at the end of Feed are well-executed, revealing some of the harsher truths of George and Shaun’s life with the Masons, as well as the nuances of their adopted-sibling relationship.
The NEWSFLESH series is nominally about zombies, but mostly it’s about virus transmission and behavior, as well as human resilience (or lack thereof) in a global crisis, and Grant’s science and sociology are spot-on. Deadline also peels back more layers of the conspiracy at work in thoroughly credible and horrifying moments, setting up what I’m sure will be a slam-bang finish in Blackout. The coda at the end of Deadline was completely unexpected and a touch baffling, but Feed and Deadline are so good that I’m willing to give Grant the benefit of the doubt in order to see where she’s going with this new development. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying some variation on it: even if you’re tired of zombies, or if zombies just don’t appeal to you, give this series a chance to sink its teeth into your head and heart.
I really need to read these.