Superheroes and zombies!

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Jay Snyder and Khristine Hvam
Running Time: 11 hrs and 32 minutes

Two years ago zombies overran the Earth and society as we know it collapsed. Now, a couple of thousand survivors are holed up in a fortress called the Mount which they have built from a former film studio on the outskirts of Los Angeles. The Mount is lead and protected by a small group of superheroes. St. George is strong, very durable, can fly, and breathe out fire and smoke. He used to be called the Mighty Dragon and he was one of the most famous heroes before the collapse. Stealth is a mysterious woman who can fight really well, move silently, and turns herself invisible in her suit. She’s also a great strategist. Then there’s Zzzap who can change into pure energy form. In his human form, he’s in a wheelchair and he doesn’t get a miracle cure. Also, when he’s in his energy form, he uses up his own energy reserves which are limited. Danielle is a scientist who was working on a battle armor called Cerberus. Now, she’s using it to keep others, and herself, safe. However, Cerberus isn’t as flexible as the Iron Man armor; it takes about an hour for Danielle to get into and other of it, and that was a great touch of realism.

The book starts with a humorous episode where St. George gets a haircut, which isn’t easy because of his almost indestructible state, and the population celebrates USA’s Independence Day. It downplays the horror aspects of the situation.

Then a small group led by St. George and Cerberus heads out to LA to gather any possible supplies. To my surprise, only a few of the local Marines are in the group. They shoot down any zombies that gets too close and continue their ongoing competition in who can kill the most famous people. This again downplays the horror.

Some of the people at the Mount are expecting the rest of surviving humanity to rescue them. Some are convinced that they are the last survivors. However, when a drone plane flies over the Mount, both groups are surprised, some pleasantly and others not so much. St. George sends Zzzap to investigate and he confirm that the drone belongs to a group of US soldier. However, after two years of isolation, can the groups trust each other?

There are a lot of different people at the Mount. Some of them are ordinary people but there is a Marine base, too. Apparently a gang, the Seventeens, started the zombie apocalypse and some of the gang members are now in the Mount but they aren’t exactly trusted. Christian was a member of the local government and she resents the power that the superheroes have. She’s agitating for an election. I was expecting her to have a more prominent role but she didn’t. I can’t help but to think that the heroes should have giving her a role in the new governing structure.

There are a lot of pop culture references in the story. For example, one of the buildings in the Mount is called the Roddenberry, Zzzap laments that he’s never going to know how Lost ends, and when the scavengers are given armor, they say they should be in the Lord of the Rings. Yes, it’s cheesy but I liked it.

The characterization is surprisingly good. The people have come somewhat used to the situation and are using humor to make things bearable. However, Danielle has been so traumatized that she doesn’t feel safe outside the Cerberus armor and refers to herself as “tiny, helpless woman”. She’s a scientist and an engineer, just like Tony Stark. St. George is a clear analog to Superman and Stealth is an analog to Batman. Apparently, they are romantically involved, sort of, but Stealth keeps St. George, and everyone, at an arm’s length. There are also several super soldiers who are trying to do the right thing. I was delighted that the female character aren’t shown just as accessories or possible romances to the males or as hostages. Stealth uses a suit that covers her up completely and the Cerberus armor isn’t gendered (no pointy breasts here!). Even though Stealth is quite underpowered compared to St. Gorge and Zzzap, she’s competent and more than holds her own in a fight.

Most humans aren’t comfortable calling the undead zombies, so they are often called “ex-humans” or exes.

Some of the heroes got their powers accidentally, much like most of the heroes in the DC universe. However, most of the secondary super powered characters are soldiers who got the powers through a US government program. The zombiefication seems to be a virus that is spread through biting.

The chapters have been divided between “Now” and “Then”. The Now chapters follow St. George and his group in third person. The “Then” chapters each have a different narrator and some of them are set in the time before the zombie apocalypse and some after it but before “Now”. These chapters are in first person. They showcase characters who are in the current storyline but don’t get a POV which is a great way to give more insight into them and getting a bit more sympathetic POV to characters who aren’t sympathetic in the other story line. Near the end of the book, we get POV chapters from the villains, too. This structure worked really well for me.

The audio book has two narrators: Jay Snyder is what I’d say the dominant narrator; he narrates the Now chapters, no matter if the POV character is male or female, and the various male characters’ dialogue. Khristine Hvam narrates female dialogue except in “Then” chapters which are narrated by a female character. Then Hvam narrates the chapter except for male dialogue which Snyder narrates. I’ve listened to both of them with other books and I liked them. However, I was really impressed how well they worked together. I haven’t listened before an audiobook with two narrators but at least here it worked really well for me.

The Audible book has a bonus short story at the end which runs about an hour. Codependent is about Holly who is surviving alone among the ex-humans. Then she meets up with another woman who claims not have been infected with the zombie virus. For me, this story was more horrific than the main story. The zombies, called junkies this time, seem to be somewhat different than in the main story. For example, they can speak a little and fight amongst themselves over food.

Oh, I’ve just realized that this was the second book in the series. Well, I’m certainly getting the first one!

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