This is a zombie apocalypse novel were bleak doesn't even cut it. The story is of Mary, a girl living in the last refuge of humanity ruled by The Sisters, and how she tries to live in this environment. Up until the zombies get into gear, this story is also very dystopian.
I just can’t write this without feeling depressed all over again (and slightly nervous). It’s truly a great story, and as someone who doesn’t like zombies, it credit to how easy it is to be drawn in. I never knew what to expect from the book: the cover gives nothing away and Mary herself is unpredictable because she constantly strives to fit in with society; all she really wants is to see the ocean since, to her, it is the only place truly untouched by the Unconsecrated.
At the start, the mechanics of the village are stiflingly dystopian. The Sisters rule with iron-clad authority and the Guardians are their hands. It appears to be a working society, but then Mary finds out some things, some by accident, and she begins to see the Sisters more as like occupying, brain-washing force than a force for God. She half-respects the sisters, especially Sister Tabitha, for their dedication, but it is something she doesn’t share. This kind of difference is what makes Mary so strange to the other villagers. Whereas they are happy to live, breed and help maintain human life, she wants more. She wants to be herself and not just a tool for humanity’s survival.
There were some really horrible moments in this book. The Zombie in red? My skin crawled every time she was mentioned. This one meant bad news whenever she was around, and seeing her destroy herself was even terrifying. And worse still: zombie children. This is a bit of a spoiler thing, but anyone who is thinking of reading this must know there are zombified children- even newborns. It made me sick to read, partly because I stick to books where children are safe even if deprived. But as ever, it was captivating.
Romance was kind of important in the book. The idea is that each girl in the village either marries and copulates or becomes a Sister: romance is only good luck. So when Mary finds love, it reiterates the oddity of our protagonist that I could I actually didn’t mind. For once, when I was told she’d loved him for a long time I didn’t groan since from what I already knew, it made sense. And it could have stayed that way, except a love triangle was introduced, and I kind of didn’t believe in Harry loving her. It struck me more as loyalty and friendship, which to him meant love. But not to Mary, and not to me. Travis was better in my mind because he understood her. As you may imagine, the love is going to cause a bit of pain.
I disliked three things, which are minor things depending on outlook. The first was the the pacing felt a bit odd. They’d be fighting and running for chapters, then they would just stop somewhere for ages. It felt a bit jumpy and annoying. But I get the constant moving; if they dwell, everything will catch up with them, literally and figuratively. I also disliked the battles themselves: at one point Mary just picks up an axe and starts swinging it a lot to kill loads of zombies. That sounds too simplistic to me, but I think that’s my fantasy roots showing through and wouldn’t bother most people. The final qualm and the biggest was that when our little group stops at one point, the men make the fire and the girls make the food. Earlier on, the men all took the weapons as well. Okay, the men were trained fighters unlike the women, but the feeling of sexism was kind of annoying. But I think Carrie realised this since it was written in a slightly clipped way, so I assume it was put in to conform to the society she made.
All in all, it was a good book. I was breathless reading it (seriously) and I had to stop sometimes to mentally prepare myself for whatever happened next. The use of the Sea also kept me reading: in these dire circumstances it was understandable why she had to believe this. (I actually have an analysis in my head of why she needed the sea, and why no-one else had dreams like her, but that would be too spoilery.) I imagine a lot of people have read this, but those who haven’t have been warned that this is a traumatic kind of book that has been superbly done.