Fall of Night by Jonathan Maberry is the second thriller in the Dead of Night series about a world overrun with zombies (available September 2, 2014).
The road to hell, so they say, is paved with good intentions. Most disaster movies begin with a well-meaning act, or an unintentional act, or even just a mistake. But in Jonathan Maberry’s “Dead of Night” series, the end of the world is set off by an act of pure evil—a prison doctor developing a serum that will allow a prisoner’s consciousness to survive even as his body rots in his grave.
Karma, as they also say, is a bitch, and in this second installment of Maberry’s zombie apocalypse series, the bitch is back.
With a vengeance.
In the first 15 pages, someone readers care about will die, and with that death we realize we’re in George R. R. Martin territory where no one is safe.
The National Guardsmen popped several flares on the far side of the parking lot to attract the masses of living dead. On that side of the lot, behind the chain- link fence, all of the Guard trucks sent up a continuous wail with their sirens. The dead shuffled that way, drawn by light and noise.
One of the victims, a man who had been bitten by what had been his own wife and children, stared glassily at the stiffly moving bodies. Then he raised a weak arm and pointed to the soldiers.
“Are they coming to help us?” he asked.
“They’re coming,” said Dez, hating herself for the implied lie.
She told the wounded to sit down by the wall. Some of them immediately fell asleep; others stared with empty eyes at the glowing flares high in the sky.
For a moment it left Dez, JT, and Trout as the only ones standing, each of them holding a dying child. The tableau was horrific and surreal. They stared at each other, frozen into this moment because the next was too horrible to contemplate. Then they saw movement.
JT peered into the shadows. “They’re coming.”
“The Guard?” asked Dez, a last flicker of hope in her eyes.
“No,” he said.
Every horror fan out there has a list of favorite books about “the end” but up until now, mine was a very short list—Robert McCammon’s Swan Song and Stephen King’s The Stand. I never thought a zombie novel would make its way onto the list, much less a series of zombie novels, but Fall of Night is the book that changed my mind.
This is a book where ordinary people step up, do what they can, do what they must and then, if necessary, die. Sometimes all they can do is die. Sometimes all they can do is kill so that others won’t die.
The orders came.
The killing began.
The dying began.
And the tears.
Now the infected were dead. All of them. The dying and the risen dead. All of them littered on the pavement and splashed against the walls of the school. Against the building designated as the town emergency shelter.
Rollins was not a deeply educated man, but he understood the concepts of irony and farce.
Hap Rollins, the National Guardsman who is given the order to fire on that crowd of infected people is close enough to see their faces. And after it’s over, he can’t bear to look into the faces of the dead because he feels it would somehow be disrespectful. And he knows that an act of sacrifice he’s just witnessed is the bravest thing he’s ever seen in 12 years as a combat vet. That’s right, Maberry can move a combat veteran to tears—he can do the same for a reader.
And that, in a nutshell, is what makes this book different from others of its ilk. There is an emotional core to the story and the focus is always on individuals. There are no faceless “Umbrella Corps” making decisions here, but people who know they face consequences for their actions, whether good or bad.
And in the context of this book, “good” is a continuum and a concept that’s subject to discussion and open for debate and capable of being “spun.” And those are all choices that various characters make None of those choices are easy and all of them bear consequences, some of them unbearable.
But as William Faulkner once wrote, “Man will not merely endure, he will prevail,” and apocalyptic fiction is all about the endurance and the prevailing and the survival of humankind. And in this version, it’s not just the men who matter. Here there are women inside the president’s inner circle and inside the school house that has become Pennsylvania’s version of the Alamo. And these women aren’t just there for window dressing; Maberry’s cast is genuinely multi-dimensional and multi-cultural. And that means that there are villains as well as heroes.
All of them making choices.
Because what else can they do?
What you can do is read this book and see just how good genre can be when it’s driven by character.
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Katherine Tomlinson is a former reporter who prefers making things up. She was editor of Astonishing Adventures Magazine and the publisher of Dark Valentine Magazine. She edited the charity anthology Nightfalls. Her dark fiction has appeared in Shotgun Honey, A Twist of Noir, Luna Station Quarterly, and Eaten Alive, as well as anthologies, including Weird Noir, Pulp Ink 2, Alt-Dead, Alt-Zombie, and the upcoming Grimm Futures, which she also edited. Her most recent collection of short stories is Suicide Blonde. She lives in Los Angeles and sees way too many movies.