Some days, it just doesn’t seem worth getting out of bed; not even to eat delicious braaaaains. I guess that’s why they call it the blues. Let’s lurch our way into Even White Trash Zombies Get The Blues, by Diana Rowland.
Angel Crawford is finally starting to get used to life as a brain-eating zombie, but her problems are far from over. Her felony record is coming back to haunt her, more zombie hunters are popping up, and she’s beginning to wonder if her hunky cop-boyfriend is involved with the zombie mafia. Yeah, that’s right—the zombie mafia.
Throw in a secret lab and a lot of conspiracy, and Angel’s going to need all of her brainpower—and maybe a brain smoothie as well—in order to get through it without falling apart.
As I was reading Even White Trash Zombies Get The Blues, I kept getting this nagging feeling that it wasn’t as good or engaging as the first book of the series, that something was missing. I had to sit down and think for a long while before I could finally put my finger on it, but I think I’ve figured it out: there’s no suspense about the characters. A major part of the mystery running throughout the first book was that we didn’t know who Angel’s mysterious benefactor was. Each time a character appeared, we were left to wonder if they were the one; and tension was continually drawn out by having them all make vaguely portentous comments that could be interpreted as hinting at knowledge of zombies but could also have perfectly innocent explanations. By the end of the book, though, we knew pretty well where each person stood on each half of the human-zombie divide. So in this book, when characters like Nick or Clive appear, tension deflates like a balloon. They may as well be carrying signs saying “nothing important will happen in this scene”. I mean, there was nothing inherently wrong with the scenes of Nick unexpectedly helping Angel study for her GED or Angel giving Clive a knuckle sandwich; at least, not inherently. But if you were to completely cut those scenes out of the novel, I wouldn’t notice anything missing. They’re completely extraneous to the actual story being told. I won’t write their characters off as completely useless, but something would have to change for them to become relevant again: they’d need an actual subplot with a story arc and some connection to the actual main narrative of the novel, not just the isolated go-nowhere do-nothing scenes they got.
That major negative aside, there were plenty of things the novel did which I liked. For instance, there was the explanation of how, precisely, zombies work in this universe: their powers, their limitations, their level of contagion, and their position on the scale between scientific viral infection-type zombies and fantasy mystical undead-type zombies. It lets me adjust my expectations for the rest of the series accordingly: whereas, say, Women of the Otherworld started only with werewolves but the mystic nature of their condition left the door wide open for all sorts of other fantasy races to let themselves in and feel right at home later on, the strict definition and explanation of zombies here means this series is likely to stay far more limited in how many fantastical elements it allows through the door.
Another big positive would be the full fleshing-out of Ed’s backstory. In my review of My Life As A White Trash Zombie, I complained about how generic and uninteresting his motivation was. This book takes the time to actually explore the journey he took in transforming from an ordinary civilian to a slightly-crazy zombie hunter – a process which, outside of The Evil Dead 2, does not occur over the course of a single night – and gives him a lot of great character development in the process. Whereas I didn’t actually care all that much when he was revealed as the villain of the first book, I’m now invested in his character and story arc and interested to see what will happen to him next.
And, of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention the action climax where Angel escapes from the lab: a far more dramatic and energetic conclusion than the fight against Ed in the first novel. I found it thrilling enough to redeem the novel’s earlier lapses in building suspense, and it was enough to lift the book from a 2 back up to a 3.
Final Rating: 3/5