One of the oldest debates in the horror community is defining a zombie. Is it someone who simply doesn't have control of his or her free will? Is it someone who is alive but controlled by a virus? Do they have to have died at some point? If they eat flesh and have no self-control, but they are alive, are they a cannibal or a zombie?
The Liger Plague by Joseph Souza might possibly be a new angle in the zombie debate; if the living infected in 28 Days Later fall into the realm of zombies, readers should at least consider adding Souza’s latest creation to the list. The Liger infected are unable to control their actions, they feed on human flesh, and they “hunt” much like traditional hordes. Due to the mysterious nature of the deadly hybrid virus, it’s possible Souza’s first novel in his new series didn’t reveal the entire transformation of the infected.
The majority of the story takes place on Cooke Island, where Tag, an ARMY scientist who specializes in the study of biological weapons, owns a summer home. Just as he is about to join his wife and daughter on the island for an art festival, Tag receives a warning that a new deadly virus is about to be released on the island. What follows is Tad’s struggle to quarantine the island, find his family & fight the infected…not to mention all the survivors looking to gather supplies by any means necessary.
Tag’s two main companions on the island are Fez, a kid who can’t find his parents, and Versa, the most unpleasant character that lives on the island. (If I were Tag, I would have thrown Versa into a crowd of ravenous infected, and been done with her, right at the start.) Tag’s adversaries include a bunch of bikers, some religious nuts, the local law enforcement and the government agents on the mainland. Tag is not by any means the only capable survivor, but he appears to be the only one who understands how much worse the situation will be if the Liger virus finds a way off the island.
Souza somehow manages to paint a sickening picture of the infected (don’t bother eating while you read this novel), while drawing sympathy for the Liger victims at the same time. By allowing the infected to retain the ability to communicate, readers are given a chilling insight into the true horror of the Liger plague.
In the sequel, Lethal Chain, some time has passed since the end of the first novel. The terrorist has his own POV this time, and readers are shown some of his background. Some of the information is revealed through the investigation of two reporters. Swain is one of those reporters, and she believes that Tag has been framed...unfortunately, it appears that Tag's wife thinks he is guilty of unleashing the virus on Cooke Island. In fact, Tag has been blamed for everything, and he is desperate to contact his family, as well as clear his name, but the terrorist keeps playing games with Tag's life. Fez continues to help Tag, and proves to be a reliable back-up time and time again.
I wasn't as impressed with the characters as I was the first time, but I did enjoy the addition of Swain. She and the terrorist seem to have some similarities in their pasts, but she chose a completely different path in life. The multiple storylines keep things interesting, especially when they overlap, but the action isn't as exciting as the first novel, and it felt like the story dragged a little in a few places. When the storylines finally converge, it was almost anti-climactic, but Monica (Tag's wife) proves to be just as much of a bad-ass as her husband.
I didn't think of Lethal Chain as much of a sequel as an interlude...although it wasn't clear if there will be a third installment. I certainly hope there will be.
I also recommend The Living Dead series by Joseph Souza.