The First Days
TOR (335pp, $14.99, Paperback July 2011)
Reviewed by Beth Dawkins
The First Days lives up to its title. Opening with Jenni getting attacked by her own children pulls the reader right into it. Housewife Jenni witnesses her abusive husband chewing on their near infant son. Jenni flees while her older son stays behind to confront her zombie husband. By the time Katie enters the picture Jenni has barricaded herself on the porch. Katie hasn’t had the best of days. She went home to find her wife turned into a zombie, and has decided the best thing to do is to get out of town. She is trying to find her way out of the city when she comes across Jenni. Katie is there in the nick of time for Jenni, who is forced to make a mad dash for Katie’s truck. The two women form a bond with one another as they go out to rescue Jenni’s stepson, and find a safe haven in a small town to start rebuilding their lives.
This is the first installment of a trilogy, and a rerelease of an originally self-published title. The heart of the novel is about what happens to people during the zombie apocalypse. They have to come to grips with their loved ones turning into monsters, and the bleak future. The story is nothing new, yet it is done in a very compelling way. After Jenni and Katie set out to find Jenni’s stepson, they find themselves forced towards a town containing other survivors. The town of Shady Springs former construction crew has put together a perimeter fence that is keeping the zombie hordes out. It is in the town where the story slowed down. A lot of time is spent on what each character feels about certain situations, and how they come to decisions. The two lead men are introduced near the middle of the book, and once they enter the story a lot of time is spent on how each character feels. The narrative can at times slow the story down, but it is a character driven story.
While it is true that zombies are a main focus, they are not as important as the tension, and drive to survive. Faced with impossible odds we see Jenni and Katie suck it up, and drive forward. Jenni is the first to step forward guns blazing. Her hatred for the undead is quick. One minute her undead children want to eat her face off, and the next she is putting zombies down without thinking twice. It was a bit of a relief to see a character in a story of this kind who knew enough to shoot for the zombie’s head, but her transformation seemed a little too sped up. The novel did, however, do an excellent job of showing how dependent Jenni, as a battered wife, was on someone else. She doesn’t know how to be alone, and it is these emotions that made her a real character.
Katie’s progression isn’t as quick. She came home to an undead wife, who wanted Katie for dinner. She is more put together than most of the characters in the novel. Jenni’s need for her is what helps her keep herself together, and it is that fact that truly drives the story home. Half of the novel is about the tension of the both of them making it through together. It is when the lead men show up that the trouble starts. Katie is immediately drawn to Travis, in a way that had me rolling my eyes. It isn’t instant love, but she knows at once they have a part in one each others’ futures. It is too much like a psychic connection in a story that has nothing else magical about it. Jenni’s attraction for the men grew and developed over time and, though it was a short amount of time, felt much more organic.
The world is ending, and The First Days gives off the right feel. The descriptions have a good amount of blood, and undead smells, but lack the full flow that puts readers into the story. There is a lot of narrative that can bog the reader down, and get in the way of the descriptions. Zombies are hard to read about and not have a comic feel, but the right amount of tension is there. The only exception is the town most of the story takes place in. The town, Shady Springs, is constantly building, and fortifying to keep the undead out. It succeeds in this.
The zombies of The First Days are not the slow, moaning creatures of traditional zombie lore, but fast runners that will stop at nothing to eat the faces off of their victims. They are the ever-present danger that keeps the characters on their toes. Jenni has seen Romero films, and she almost at once knows to put them down, and not to get bitten. The biggest problems the zombies cause for our main characters are when they are forced to pull families a part. Very soon a bullet to the head is not only a mercy, but a welcome escape from a nightmarish world.
The end of the world is here, and it feels desolate. Jaded readers who have seen this before will not be torn apart, or surprised, but they will enjoy what is being built in the series. Readers new to the zombie apocalypse may cling to one of the main characters, and feel every bump in the road. The story isn’t new, but it is well done. If future installments keep with the same character driven feel, it could be a zombie front runner.
Beth Dawkins can also be found at her blog Sweet – Books’n Stuff.