Author: Mira Grant
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Speculative Fiction, Zombies
Publication Date: May 2012
Paperback: 560 pages
Rise up while you can. -Georgia Mason
The year was 2014. The year we cured cancer. The year we cured the common cold. And the year the dead started to walk. The year of the Rising.
The year was 2039. The world didn’t end when the zombies came, it just got worse. Georgia and Shaun Mason set out on the biggest story of their generation. The uncovered the biggest conspiracy since the Rising and realized that to tell the truth, sacrifices have to be made.
Now, the year is 2041, and the investigation that began with the election of President Ryman is much bigger than anyone had assumed. With too much left to do and not much time left to do it in, the surviving staff of After the End Times must face mad scientists, zombie bears, rogue government agencies-and if there’s one thing they know is true in post-zombie America, it’s this:
Things can always get worse.
Blackout is the conclusion to the epic trilogy that began in the Hugo-nominated Feed and the sequel, Deadline.
Stand alone or series: Book 3 in the Newsflesh Trilogy
How did I get this book: e-ARC from the Publisher (via NetGalley)
**WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS UNAVOIDABLE SPOILERS FOR FEED AND DEADLINE. If you have not read the first two books in the trilogy and want to remain unspoiled, look away! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.**
At the conclusion of Deadline, there have been some rather drastic revelations: Shaun is immune to Kellis-Amberlee, Georgia has been cloned by the CDC (oh, yeah, and the adopted brother and sister have had a longstanding sexual relationship). Blackout opens with a bang, much in the same way as its predecessor. Georgia finds herself an unwitting patient of the CDC, and while she knows immediately that she must be a clone (given the memory of her death and the fact that she no longer has retinal KA), she doesn’t know why she has been cloned or what the CDC’s endgame is. All she knows is that it must have to do with her brother, and it must have to do with a truth that someone very desperately wants to keep covered up. Not so far away, Shaun and the After the End Times team (Mahir, Alaric, Mags, and Becks) are dispatched on a crazy dangerous mission – Kellis-Amberlee has mutated and now can be carried by insect vectors, and after the last tropical storm deadly zombie-making mosquitoes are now on the large and the entire state of Florida is nanoseconds away from being declared officially lost. Shaun – still mourning for his lost sister and hanging onto sanity by a mere thread – and the crew must save Alaric’s sister, capture a live mosquito sample for testing, and figure out why the virus mutated – be the cause natural, or manmade.
Alternating points-of-view between Shaun’s narrative and Georgia’s, Blackout chronicles the last chapter of the Newsflesh trilogy as the Masons paths collide and together they fight to rip the lid off of a conspiracy so huge, it will rock the foundation of the post-Rising world.
I am kind of at a loss when it comes to Blackout. I *loved* Feed. I loved the heavy exposition, the fascinating medical procedural tied to the political thriller. I loved Georgia’s frank narration, and I loved how honest and forthright she was throughout. I loved this vision of a post-apocalyptic, zombie-filled world, and the steps humanity has taken to adapt, survive, and to rise.
Needless to say, when I got through Deadline, I was a little less enthused. I still loved the world building and the underlying main storyline, but so many of the things I was so enamoured with in the first book were absent in the second. Most glaringly, Shaun is not half the narrator his sister was. There was also a ton of repetition (not just of pointless story exposition that leads nowhere, but also of key phrases – Shaun drinking a coke, muttering to himself/Georgia’s ghost, grinning like a maniac and wanting to punch people in the face, etc) that detracted from the overall efficacy of the story. The political and medical thriller, the underlying conspiracy, is pushed to the backburner in favor of Shaun’s (very quickly tiresome) glib narrative as he grapples with grief.
In Blackout, I wanted so desperately for the book to return to the series’ Feed roots, but alas. Blackout is better than Deadline, but failed to wow, shock or awe. I liked the alternating narrator conceit, tying the first two books together nicely in an attempt to bring both Georgia and Shaun back together again. That said, I found myself wanting to skip Shaun’s narrative entirely – as to me it felt largely pointless and filled with the same tedious repetition I had to slog through in Deadline. The good news is that Georgia’s narrative is as wonderful as I remembered from Feed but this time is rife with more internal struggle as she fights to form and understand a sense of self and identity within her new flesh, whilst simultaneously fighting and exposing the Umbrella Corporation-esque corruption of the CDC, and finding a way to escape and get back to her brother. As far as narrators go, Georgia remains one of the coolest, smartest, most capable protagonists I have had the pleasure of reading in a good long while. With regard to the other characters, my main complaint is how similar the majority of the characters sound to each other. Most everyone is a smarmy, fast-talking wiseguy with a mile-wide melodramatic streak, from the doctors to the Newsies. I like the additions to the cast this go-around, but the lack of distinct voices makes for a monotonous reading experience. 1
On the story and actual writing front, Blackout also leaves a girl wanting more. Well, actually, wanting less. The biggest issue with Blackout is its unnecessary length – the underlying conspiracy that runs through the trilogy, the truth that Georgia, Shaun and the gang are fighting so desperately to unveil? WE’VE KNOWN ABOUT IT SINCE BOOK 1 (and the beginning portion of book 2)! There is absolutely no need for the book to be half as long as it is, chock-full of repetitive action, driving scenes, medical tests, and so on that have no baring on the actual progression of the story or development of the characters.2 Even the little epigraphs preceding each chapter – and I shouldn’t call them “little” because there are at least 2 each time, and usually span at least a paragraph a pop – became tiresome and repetitive.3 That said, the actual conspiracy itself is a fantastic twist (well, not so twisty since we’ve kind of known about it for a while), and once the action and story proper actually starts moving along, Blackout becomes a much more enjoyable read.
I can’t write this review without addressing the two other significant detractors for me, personally, though. These are the two huge Jump the Shark moments from Blackout: 1. The Relationship between Georgia and Shaun; and 2. The Cloning/Pseudoscience/Shaun’s Immunity Revelations. First, regarding the relationship between brother and sister, I simply cannot buy it. Not even in this book, not even with Georgia’s ‘explanation’ (which feels very much like an editorial response to criticism of book 2 and that revelation). I don’t care if the nature of their relationship is something that Georgia and Shaun never wrote down – the fact that we are living inside both Georgia and Shaun’s heads for the full trilogy means that at some point, in Feed, Georgia could have/should have made some sort of reference to her very intimate, soulmate bond with her non-biological brother. I simply do not buy it (your mileage may vary, of course, but to me this revelation and attempt at rationalization felt inauthentic).
Regarding the second, Shaun’s immunity to KA and Georgia’s cloning are also ‘explained’, and while these explanations are within the realm of possibility (this IS a zombie novel, after all), I still can’t help but feel a little, well, unhappy with the way things turn out. The reason why Feed was such a powerful, resonant novel is because of its grounding in more tangible science, its taut political relevance, and the medical thriller aspect to the book. We lose that in Deadline and Blackout, which turns to fringe scifi with neural/synapse photography/memory imprinting and cloning of a fully grown human (still not sure how that worked so quickly). Mira Grant does a phenomenal job with making these applied phlebotinum technologies and sciences work, but it’s a far cry from the more sturdy applications in Feed (again, your mileage may vary).
All these criticisms voiced, I still finished Blackout and enjoyed the experience, for both the novel and for the series as a whole. The Newsflesh books have tremendous crossover genre potential – I hesitate to label them zombie books because the zombies play such a tangential, minor role to the characters and the true villains of the piece (not to mention the virus itself). While I wasn’t wholly satisfied with the way things turned out, and Feed is clearly the vastly superior novel of the trilogy, Blackout is a solid read. And if you’ve come this far in the trilogy, you’re gonna have to finish it. Right? Recommended…albeit with reservations.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
My story ended where so many stories have ended since the Rising: with a man- in this case, my adoptive brother and best friend, Shaun- holding a gun to the base of my skull as the virus in my blood betrayed me, transforming me from a thinking human being into something better suited to a horror movie.
My story ended, but I remember everything. I remember the cold dread as I watched the lights on the blood test unit turn red, one by one, until my infection was confirmed. I remember the look on Shaun’s face when he realized this was it- it was really happening, and there wasn’t going to be any clever third act solution that got me out of the van alive.
I remember the barrel of the gun against my skin. It was cool, and it was soothing, because it meant Shaun would do what he had to do. No one else would get hurt because of me.
No one but Shaun.
This was something we’d never planned for. I always knew that one day he’d push his luck too far, and I’d lose him. We never dreamed that he would be the one losing me. I wanted to tell him it would be okay. I wanted to lie to him. I remember that: I wanted to lie to him. And I couldn’t. There wasn’t time, and even then, I didn’t have it in me.
I remember starting to write. I remember thinking this was it; this was my last chance to say anything I wanted to say to the world. This was the thing I was going to be judged on, now and forever. I remember feeling my mind start to go. I remember the fear.
I remember the sound of Shaun pulling the trigger.
I shouldn’t remember anything after that. That’s where my story ended. Curtain down, save file, that’s a wrap. Once the bullet hits your spinal cord, you’re done; you don’t have to worry about this shit anymore. You definitely shouldn’t wake up in a windowless, practically barren room that looks suspiciously like a CDC holding facility, with no one to talk to but some unidentified voice on the other side of a one- way mirror.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE
Rating: 6 – Good, Recommended with Reservations; though I wavered between a 6 and a 7.
Reading Next: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Buy the Book:
- What’s that old adage? When everyone’s a wisecracking snarkist, no one is. ↩
- Especially coming off reading such a fantastically taught and expertly written short novel in Nancy Kress’s After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, Blackout‘s many excesses were all the more glaring! ↩
- On a side note, that’s a shame because some of the epigraphs were actually pertinent and reveal more to the story at large – but because 90% of them are pointless filler, the tendency is to want to skip them altogether. ↩