Series: Newsflesh #4
Published by Orbit Books on October 6 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
I picked up Feedback completely fresh to the Newsflesh series. So fresh, I didn’t even realize it was a series and started reading completely innocent of Mira Grant’s universe of bloggers fighting for life, liberty and the American way against a backdrop of the zombie apocalypse. The minimal zombie action in the beginning was a bit surprising, but I did not lose interest before the biting and moaning got underway, and now I understand why the book was structured that way. Grant was reorienting audiences of other books in her series to the perspectives of her new central characters.
Zombie action blogger Aislinn “Ash” North is the central character providing POV for the band of bloggers we follow throughout. Ash is Irish, loud and lovely. In this frightened America people are still reeling from a zombie rising that decimated society some 25 plus years before, Ash makes her living by filming and writing about her own zombie-baiting adventures in the great outdoors. Her partners include Ben North, her news blogging husband, Audrey Wen, fiction writer and Ash’s lover, and Mat Newson, a genderfluid person who does makeup tutorials and handles IT.
While all the central characters are fully developed with especially strong and unique voices, Grant is not pushing the boundaries of the buddy thriller. Ash is brash. Audrey is the mysterious one. Ben is African American and the team’s workhorse–probably the least developed of the three characters. And Mat is a strange combination of proclivities who comes off as very likable.
The team is hired by a candidate running for president to blog for her campaign. It doesn’t take long before the candidate is under attack, and the bloggers are running into more zombies than any campaign has a right to expect. Loyalties between the lovers are seriously tested, the suffering of good people ensues, and there’s a mole in the campaign reporting the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)! (Yeah, it’s not the government agency most likely to be suspected of controlling politics for nefarious reasons, but Grant makes a fairly believable argument.)
Once the action gets going, the tension climbs steadily until a tragic encounter with the mole who figures out they know too much. Afterwards the team reorganizes and decides to disappear from the campaign and their lives. They head for Canada as fast as they can, only to be waylaid by a small warlord in Oregon. The escape from that prison again raises the story’s themes of friendship and loyalty as well as highlights Ash’s propensity for violent action in the face of overwhelming odds. By the time the reader gets to this little adventure, it’s clear the zombies are quite incidental and only provide a framework for approaching this fictional world.
The greatest strength of this novel, over and above delivering the thrilling action promised, is its commentary on our political now and the near future. The world is wallowing in fear and insecurity, and Grant highlights salient issues like the corruption of government, reality internet, and politicians who just buy their media coverage (I’m still wrestling with the unspoken ethics of the team’s contract, even though they profess to be independent.). I was surprised, however, at some of the things the novel leaves out. There’s practically no discussion of how the economy works after the uprising or technology’s impacts, other than the ever present blood-testing devices posted at doors throughout the novel.
In order to tie this novel in with others in the series, there is a rather large spoiler near the end. It shouldn’t put off any reader interested in the series as it’s fairly unavoidable given the overlap between Grant’s novels written in roughly the same timeframe. This novel is not cutting-edge horror, but it is decent speculative fiction and a great page-turner.
My largest criticism is about the end. It is rushed and unbelievable. The last chapter was a condensed mess that almost, but not quite jeopardized my enjoyment of the novel as a whole. Reading those last few pages was the only time I felt I was being shortchanged and pushed into accepting a substandard ending so that I would buy into the series. I really don’t like feeling manipulated as a reader, but if you come into the story knowing it is part of a series and you dig the world Grant has built, you’ll enjoy the action-packed ride.
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- Review: Feedback by Mira Grant - November 10, 2016