Monday, May 11, 2015

Into The Deadland, One Last Time...

Deadland Rising
by Rachel Aukes
274 pages
$2.99 Kindle Version

The first book in this trilogy by Rachel Aukes, 100 Days In Deadland, was one of the best zombie novels that I read back in 2013. Zombies have always been more than flesh-eating monsters, representing issues within society; Aukes took the zombie metaphor even further by creating a cultural link between classic literature and mainstream horror. While I was expecting something like Valley of the Dead (even though I knew this story takes place in modern times), I was surprised to find Aukes’ creation more like Down The Road, with relentless action and gritty emotion. The 34 chapters reflect the 34 cantos of Inferno, with Easter eggs placed throughout the book for literary buffs.

The series' main character, Cash (real name Mia), is a refreshing female lead, with thoughts and reactions that seemed so much more genuine than most characters in zombie fiction, especially when it comes to female characters. She doesn’t start out as badass, but, rather, she has to work hard on a daily basis to become physically and mentally tough enough to survive the undead outbreak in her area. Her metamorphosis doesn’t happen without some setbacks, either. I also appreciated the realistic nature of her interactions with the other characters, particularly Clutch (the truck driver who gives her refuge) and Jase (a young man who is neighbors with Clutch). There is an underlying rawness about her at all times that rises to the surface as the story progresses, which made me feel for her character, even when she wasn’t blatantly suffering.

Deadland’s Harvest is the second book. I was impressed with the creative way Aukes continued the saga. She didn’t use any over-the-top theatrics to include several characters from the first book. Also based on Dante’s Inferno, Aukes describes the seven levels of hell through the experiences of Cash. The sequel begins right where the first book ended. Clutch managed to survive as well, but he has a severe spinal injury. As if the survivors of Camp Fox didn’t have enough work recovering from the recent Dog attack, there are now several large herds merging into one, and headed for the camp. Cash and the others are forced to find a new home on the river, but once again they find themselves facing more than one threat to their survival.

I loved the growth of the characters from the beginning of the outbreak to the second point in the storyline, but I was getting frustrated with the lack of development in Cash’s relationship with Clutch. After everything they’ve faced, I couldn't believe they were still struggling to admit their feelings to one another…and to themselves.

Deadland Rising, Book 3 of the Deadland Saga, is a slightly disappointing ending to the trilogy. I don't feel like the readers were ever given the chance to get to know the main characters on a more personal level after the second book. Granted, the Deadlands series is told from Cash's POV, but even her character didn't continue developing on a deeper level, despite everything she went through in this series.

The relationship between Cash and Clutch doesn't really progress much further than it did in Deadland's Harvest, which was another let-down. As a matter of fact, they appeared to be two of the most emotionally reserved characters in the trilogy. Their relationship seemed largely based on convenience, rather than any true romantic feelings.

Up until the third book, I had thought Aukes was doing a great job creating unusual situations for the characters to deal with, but Book 3 seemed to fall into the stereotypical undead storyline. However, many of her other fans disagree - they think Deadland Rising is the best of the three.

For me, the biggest disappointment is the ending: a nice little wrap-up touching base with the remaining survivors. Now, I do realize that the timeline for the trilogy takes place over a year (which isn't that long in zombie sagas), so I wasn't expecting drastic changes with the characters, but they didn't seem to do a whole lot of emotional growth, which is hard to imagine after the various losses they suffered through.

Despite the genre being overwhelmed by an ever-growing number of zombie stories, authors like Aukes have managed to keep zombiephiles entertained by building on the foundations of quality horror & suspense, rather than throwing together a bunch of gore & violence and calling it a story. It’s been very entertaining to see how Aukes continued her interpretation of Dante’s work. Using classic literature to provide the backbone to this undead series has provided a depth not normally found within the horror genre. Aukes has proven beyond a doubt that there is still life in the undead genre.

As always,

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