Book Review: Feral by James DeMonaco and B.K. Evenson

“Explores the nature of humanity and the relationships we forge with each other, often finding moments of touching vulnerability among the horrors of this new world.”

One is best known as the writer and director of the popular and commercially successful The Purge movie franchise while the other is a renowned, award-winning author of both literary horror stories and movie and video game tie-ins. Both have come together to collaborate on a post-apocalyptic horror story where the genders are divided. It is a fresh take on an old trope that also explores the nature of humanity and the relationships we forge with each other, often finding moments of touching vulnerability among the horrors of this new world.

The story begins with an epilogue. Given the nature of the story, where America and, possibly, the world suffers an apocalyptic event, it is an unusual yet effective strategy. They begin the novel by introducing us to “the end” and end the novel with a prologue, hinting at the possible path life on earth could take. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The story begins with a first person narrator introducing us to a normal breakfast scene in her home. We are introduced to her father, a police officer, her mother, her sullen, older teenage sister, Allie, and the narrator herself, Kim. It is a good way to get to know the main players, from the innocent point of view of a child who, it turns out, is remembering the last time her family would be together in such normal circumstances.

As it happens, there is a disaster playing out at the nearby Arcon pharmaceutical company; a fire, that will change their lives forever.

Each chapter is written from a different character’s point of view, sometimes in first person, sometimes in third. In doing so, the authors provide us with a more detailed story. For example, Chapters one and two are told in first person from Allie’s point of view, detailing the kind of potential scandal that is all too real in our modern society. And we see the kind of person Allie is; fiercely loyal, just and unafraid to stand up for what she believes is right. These are traits that serve her well when the apocalyptic event occurs.

The fire that consumed the pharmaceutical laboratory soon unleashes a toxin that infects every male until they are reduced to primal, animalistic, feral creatures that seemingly exist only to feed and destroy. They will leave other men alone but, when they encounter a woman, their rage becomes uncontrollable as they are consumed by their bloodlust. In a sense, the book could be considered as a new twist on the zombie story. We have seen fast zombies consumed by rage in movies such as 28 Days Later, I Am Legend and World War Z, but Feral uses the division of gender to bring something different to the table.

After the events of the first day of infection, we are transported three years into the future to find a tougher, battle-hardened nineteen-year-old Allie on the hunt. She and her sister have found refuge with a small compound of women survivors in the camp of West Staten, just one of many dotted around the country. Led by the militaristic Jacky, a woman who seems to have moved on from the idea of ever having uninfected men around, and Dr. Zeman, a former scientist at the Arcon facility who works night and day to find a cure for the infection, relying on Allie to bring her live male specimens for her experiment. Allie finds her loyalties to both women tested throughout, as she struggles to make her own mind up About the future of the human race and her part in it. For the most part she is simply focussed on protecting her sister, Kim, from danger. More than once she hints that, if she felt it was no longer safe in West Staten, she and Kim would leave, live on their own, as they did before joining the group. But she has a purpose at West Staten and some part of her still believes that the “Doc” can make things right again. Even if Jacky and many of the women have reconciled themselves with the idea that men may never return and have since moved on to form relationships with each other.

The story takes a dramatic turn when Allie makes contact with a mysterious stranger who could hold the answer to defeating the virus and ridding men of the infection, thus securing the future of the human race. But, at the same time, Allie begins to notice a change in the behaviour of the ferals. There are larger groups roving the town beyond West Staten’s wall, and most of them are previously unknown to Allie and the other scouts. The women also begin to experience problems communicating with the other camps. Who is the mysterious feral known as “Scarface” and why do the other ferals seem to act differently, almost subservient, around him? And what is happening at the nearby harbour, signposted as “The Docks of Death”?

The story, despite being far from perfect, is very enjoyable. The chapters are short and, given the variety of characters who are used as narrators for each chapter, we are given a great deal of insight into their individual personalities. The zombie story has been done many times before, but not quite like this and, given that one of the authors is an experienced and successful screenwriter and director it is clear to see the cinematic qualities of the story and it would make for an entertaining script. But given the glut of zombie films of recent years, it would take some exceptional casting and direction to distinguish it from all of the other zombie movies. If you are a fan of fast-paced and action-packed zombie stories, you could do worse than pick up this book.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Anchor
Paperback: 320pp
Release Date: 4 April 2017

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