NOTE: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE PREVIOUS NOVEL IN THE TRILOGY, FEED. IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT, DO SO NOW.
Deadline is the second installment of the Newsflesh trilogy, written by Mira Grant (pseudonym of writer Seanan McGuire). It follows the praised zombie novel, Feed, but can it live up to its predecessor? To be blunt: no, it can’t.
Feed is a modern zombie classic. Just see my review to see why, exactly. It was a suspenseful, excellently paced story with good characters and an intriguing plotline, combining zombie action seamlessly with a political thriller. I think it was fair to expect the same from its sequel.
Deadline kicks off some time after the end of Feed. With the demise of his sister, Shaun Mason is left to run the show. Dead but not forgotten, Georgia has stayed as a voice in his head, making him effectively crazy, although very aware of the fact. Shaun starts investigating the death of his sister, and unsurprisingly quickly runs into a conspiracy. And that’s about all I can say without giving the plot away.
Let’s set one thing straight first. Deadline isn’t a poor novel. It’s a decent read, despite the heavy criticism I level at it below. It simply had big shoes to fill and has tiny feet. There are many good parts throughout the book, even if they fail to come together. Grant is a good writer, and still manages to paint a good picture of a post-not-quite-apocalypse world. Despite its failings, I went through Deadline in a few days and it was difficult to put the book down at times.
What are the aforementioned failings then? I’ll just list them. Sadly, Deadline fails at the parts where Feed excelled. This was the cause for most of my disappointment.
Characters. Georgia Mason was the character that carried Feed, while her brother served as an excellent supporting character. Now Georgia is gone and Shaun is the main protagonist. This is where things go wrong. Shaun simply doesn’t have what it takes to be a leading character, kind of like a master stuntman taking up acting. He’s pretty much one-dimensional, and the talks-to-dead-sister gimmick becomes old and repetitive pretty quickly. When things go wrong, he punches walls instead of providing insight or dwelling on things. Sure, this is true to the character but boring for the reader. I can’t help the feeling that Grant herself has noted this and kept Georgia on as a voice inside Shaun’s head. The fact further undermines Shaun as a character: even if he is the main character, he never feels independent but is left playing second fiddle to her dead sister. I think that’s a major flaw in the book. The death of Georgia Mason at the end of Feed was a real shocker and keeping her on as a semi-character robbed a lot from that effectiveness. The supporting cast doesn’t fare much better. There’s Alaric who has a computer, Becks who has a gun and Maggie who has money and a mansion. Yes, that’s being a bit harsh, but that’s the way I saw it.
Pacing. Another one of Feed‘s key strengths, another one of Deadline‘s stumbling points. I hate to say this, but the book is frequently boring. When there’s action, it’s great. When there isn’t, it’s..not great. Feed managed to keep up the suspense even when there was nothing much actively happening. Due to Deadline‘s faulty cast, this doesn’t happen. Also, the plot doesn’t help this, but more on that below. Deadline clocks in at over 500 pages, and that’s 100-150 pages too much. The book takes forever to really get rolling, and when that finally happens – the book ends with a dead stop. At times I found myself reading onwards just thinking that maybe when I turn the next page, it finally gets going. Which it mostly didn’t.
Plot. This goes hand in hand with the pacing. Whereas Feed had a coherent story of upcoming presidential elections, Deadline lacks this. There is the conspiracy they’re trying to uncover, but that resembles a boring adventure game: find a clue, follow said clue, find another clue, follow that one, something happens, find another clue and so on. Sure, this doesn’t sound too bad. Now take a look at that structure, and replace every comma with “nothing much happens for 20-40 pages.” As said, the plot and the poor pacing combine in a disappointing way. Overall the conspiracy is much more vague and frankly uninteresting than the one in Feed, and when the main point is uncovered, I was left with an overwhelming feeling of “and that’s it?” And this might sound silly, but there are just far too few zombies in the book. This would be fine if the characters carried it, but as mentioned before, they don’t. The best bits of the book are those in which the undead make their appearance.
Overall verdict: Despite my harsh words, Deadline isn’t a complete dud. It simply compares very poorly with its predecessor, which in turn highlights the book’s failings. As mentioned, there are severe problems with the book and it feels like a rushed sequel recycling a lot from the first book. It also suffers from major sequelitis, as it feels like a bridge between the first book and the upcoming third one, with no real merits of its own. To sum it all up, Deadline is a direct-to-dvd sequel to the surprise of the year major motion picture that was Feed. Not great by any means, but worth getting anyway.
As usual, I got mine from The Book Depository, where it currently retails for just over 6 EUR.