SURVIVOR’S SONG by Paul Tremblay is a literary “zombie” novel with a lot of heart, not a little heartbreak, and a very high degree of realism such it all felt fairly real. I quite enjoyed it.
In the near future, Massachusetts is under quarantine as a new rabies-like disease ravages the animal and now the human population. Like rabies, it’s spread through saliva, but unlike rabies, it incubates in a very short time. When Dr. Ramola Sherman gets a call from Natalie, an old friend who is now eight months pregnant, she hears a frantic plea for help: Natalie has been bitten. Thus begins a journey across a crumbling state to save Natalie and her child before it’s too late.
What I liked: The first thing has to be the world building. I especially enjoy apocalyptic stories where we see the center give way and the rest falling apart. Tremblay’s quarantine zone is filled with panicking people who react in many ways, from denial (including the main characters, to an extent) to paranoia and aggression, along with infected animals and people who lurch and rave as they randomly attack. The police are still in action but overtaxed, vigilantes are taking matters into their own hands, and the hospitals are flooded and starting to break down. Everything rolls out fairly realistically, which made the world feel utterly real to me. The characterizations are for the most part very strong, even the minor characters, and I rooted for Natalie to make it however dimmed her prospects became. I particularly liked two teenagers who treat the apocalypse as something they’ve long awaited and trained for by watching zombie movies. When the story moves, the tension and action are realistic and satisfying.
I had some reservations, notably some long digressions that broke the pacing and tension for me, as well as finding Ramola to be not being nearly as strong a character as Natalie. Despite this, I enjoyed SURVIVOR’S SONG quite a bit, and after reading dozens of zombie novels, found it a standout in a genre to which I’d grown jaded, along with being a solid horror novel overall.