Orbit, May 2012
Mass Market Paperback, 600 Pages
As I indicated in my review of Deadline, It will be very difficult to review this novel without spoiling events in both Deadline and Feed, so reader beware…
The first two novels in the Newsflesh sequence were major game changers for the zombie trope and with Blackout, Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire) has changed the game in her own world. The dead are rising and not just because of the Kellis-Amberle (KA) virus, whose outbreak resulted in the first rising a couple of decades prior to the first novel Feed. As readers of Deadline came to know, the dead are rising because of the CDC’s active engagement in the form of cloning.
That’s right, Georgia is back, though not exactly the Georgia readers knew. As she and her ‘handlers’ indicate, she’s 97% the Georgia we knew. Grant injects a great deal of delicious narrative tension through the early Georgia chapters as she butts heads with her handlers before learning more about the conspiracy behind the conspiracy. The only real physical difference is her eyes, where previously the KA Reservoir condition forced her to constantly wear sunglasses because of her dilated pupils, the clone does not have this condition.
The focus on Georgia does not preclude focus from Sean Mason. Far from it. What Grant has done, in a narrative sense in Blackout, is truly enjoyable and fascinating. The point of view narration in the previous two volumes is indeed intact; however, Grant rotates the chapters from Sean and Georgia, with the only initial indication being blog quotes from the opposite perspective. That is, Becks is part of Sean’s narrative and when we see a blog quote from her, it signals a chapter from Georgia’s point of view. It’s a rather obvious trick, but still quite successful. I felt that Georgia’s voice in Feed was stronger than Shaun’s was in Deadline, but there’s more of a balance between the two here in Blackout.
So, structurally we’ve got our map laid out, the path Grant takes continues to be filled with conspiracy and subterfuge with a little less on the political game inasmuch as the politicians themselves don’t take to the page until the latter portions of the novel. This isn’t to say the game of politics isn’t present, because it very much is and drives the plot of the novel. Much of the politics involves the power play of control between the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and the EIS (Epidemic Intelligence Service), specifically the information about the Kellis-Amberle virus and the potential for a cure.
A living breathing Georgia wasn’t the only major revelation in Deadline to have ramifications for Blackout, the other is Shaun’s immunity to Kellis-Amberle. Although this plot point is not as front and center as a cloned protagonist and simmers under the surface, it proves to be a powerful notion in the search for a cure. It also works effectively for some dramatic tension in later events in Blackout, even if we as the reader know of Shaun’s immunity.
Grant builds up a great deal of dramatic tension in the early parts of the novel by revealing different points of the story from Shaun and Georgia and much of that tension is the hoped-for reunion of the brother and sister duo. Their embrace is heartwarming to an extent and the fact that their embrace leads to a passionate kiss shouldn’t come as a surprise because even though they “never wrote it down” their physical relationship was revealed in Deadline. In the long run and on reflection, Georgia and Shaun’s not so sibling like relationship could be cause for consternation, even if they were only ‘raised’ as brother and sister and not related by blood. It is another element of moral complexity in the narrative that can both cause discomfort as well as empathy. I suspect how much moral complexity is up to the individual reader.
Much of the novel, from Shaun’s perspective, is a road-trip / quest to either find a specific MacGuffin (fake IDs to allow them safer passage over borders) or something people holding a MacGuffin require in order for the After the End Times gang to get the initial MacGuffin. Through these road quests, Shaun’s sanity slippage continues and some of it seems a bit of a rehash. However, Shaun realizes he’s losing his marbles, and these rehashing do, in a sense, speak more to his slipping sanity.
So, how does Blackout hold up to the promises laid out in its predecessor volumes? From my reading perspective very well, Grant brings more Applied Phlebotinum to the table in the form of the clones and how Shaun’s immunity came to be. If Grant were a lesser writer, these elements could derail the novel, but thankfully, she’s quite brilliant at explaining these things in a plausible fashion which is balanced by the overall powerfully addictive narrative.
Blackout is both fine novel and a fine conclusion to the Newflesh Trilogy. I enjoyed the random Zombie novel here and there, but when I read Feed I was totally blown away, which set the bar high for Deadline. That bar was met and with Blackout and the whole Newsflesh Trilogy, Mira Grant has completed what should be considered the quintessential Zombie narrative for the early 21st Century: it raises as many (maybe more) questions about identity, government conspiracies, sanity, science gone wrong, and surviving in a Crapsack World. I found it difficult to put these books aside for the annoying interruptions of life while reading them and highly recommend the trilogy, which stands very, very high on my list of completed series.
© 2012 Rob H. Bedford
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