Monday, July 28, 2014

How the White Trash Zombie Got Her Groove Back (White Trash Zombie #4) by Diana Rowland

Angel’s life seems to be heading in a good direction – she has her GED, she’s even considering college courses. She’s doing well at her job and is growing in confidence as she realises how much she now knows. She has some relationship issues to get through with Marcus, but things are working out

Until Pietro, the leader of the zombie “Tribe” is kidnapped. And there’s evidence of a traitor in the organisation. They have to get him back, but how much of the Tribe’s membership can they really rely on? Who can she actually trust?

She was just getting her normal life sorted out, covert operative wasn’t in the job description.

I like this plot – it certainly follows some concepts I’ve seen before: evil corporation kidnaps some good guys and some more goodguys swoop in to the rescue, with lots of travel, sleuthing and then some kick arse action. But, then, you take most plots down to their basic elements you come to an old structure. What counts is what you do with it – and this does it well

The pacing is great – there’s no big down time, there’s no massive floppiness from frustrated red herrings (there are false leads but they are handled well with enough action to keep the story moving). The world has its wonderful originality with the zombies, their organisation, characters who Angels doesn’t always get on with but she’s seeing them with more nuance. We have a really interesting world and concept with these zombies which continues to grow and develop with new information and background adding to some of the major characters and the very nature of zombiedom.

I also quite like the antagonists – not only do they bring a lot of complexity with Naomi, since they are her family (with some really wonderful scenes where she tries to connect and some harsh realities and all kinds of emotional conflict) but they’re also interestingly powerful; not overwhelmingly unstoppable, but still dangerous enough to be a very difficult challenge. It’s interesting to see the “evil corporation” route that doesn’t involve some vast, shadowy multinational conglomerate; instead an actual family run business. It adds more motives to the antagonists (emotional connection) and makes the maintained secrecy more conceivable.

I have to say, though it kills me to, that I had some trouble getting into this book. There were a lot of characters coming back, not all of them I recognised or remembered (clearly this is because these books aren’t released close enough together – I hint most subtly). So much has happened in the White Trash Zombieverse even if it is only four books in – there’s been a lot of events and characters. I was a little swamped as characters seemed to be coming out of the woodwork. But it quickly evened out, a lot of characters fell into the background and I could focus more – I was still a little lost with the importance of some of them (was I supposed to remember Brian? I didn’t remember Brian. Apparently Brian is a big deal. Sorry Brian.)

What really makes this book, though, are the characters

Angel remains one of my all time favourite characters. This book has an excellent combination of her pride and doubt. She is proud of how far she has come in her job, in her education, in her relationship with her father. She has no time for people who scorn her for her past or look down on her – she knows what’s she’s achieved, she isn’t shy about it and won’t let anyone belittle her for it. She has ambitions, she has aspirations and she’s working towards them – all the while acknowledging the awesome help she has received from her friends.

At the same time, this plot takes angel & co deeply into secret agent territory and Angel is grossly out of her depth. It’s wonderful how it’s set up – from her beginning to learn martial arts peacefully at the beginning of the book (and not being very good at it), this isn’t a side of the whole zombie Tribe she has been involved in. And she feels that keenly – she needs to be kept informed, but she also knows she’s not helping and that she has nothing good to add and that she’s getting in the way. Her insecurities rise up because Naomi, Kyle and Phillip are all professional operatives. That’s not to say she’s useless (certainly not by the end when she is awesome in an epic degree), she’s clever and a quick learner and observant – but she isn’t a professional, it shows and it worries her.

This is also linked to some excellent class issues – like when Naomi decides they all have to destroy their phones. Angel isn’t going to destroy her phone – she can’t afford to destroy her phone and buy a new one. She struggles with having to run without packing and facing the prospect of buying clothes and toiletries. She has problems with eating in restaurants for every meal – her budget can’t stretch to that. And if she asks for help that makes her even more of a burden (especially in the face of very rich Naomi’s complete lack of patience with Angel’s money worries). And there’s things like stealing a car – she can’t go along with that, she has a criminal record, she can’t afford to be caught

It’s a wonderful characterisation and depiction of the reality behind a plot line we see quite a lot of

I think the character interactions in this book were really engaging – even when they were fraught. I won’t say they were all fun, but they were all real

Like for most of the book everyone just about suspects everyone else of being a traitor. I’ve seen that plot line before and cringed because it usually makes for a lot of angst and justification for terrible decisions. They worried, they took some precautions – but when it came to people they were already sure they trusted, they didn’t let that suspicion completely overwhelm them nor did they forget it. Nor did they play the “you suspect me? Oh how very dare you?!” game. Everyone suspected rather reasonably understands why they are being suspected.

There’s also the relationship between Angel and her best friend              Naomi. For a while I thought we were having a classic “2 women can’t get on” storyline as the two men, Phillip and Kyle are so silent through all this conflict – and Angel seems to have notably frosty relations with a couple of other women (including the big bad who is repellent in every way and her comeuppance skirts the edge of slut shaming. And probably goes right over the edge), though she has an awesome friendship with congresswoman Jane who is awesome in every way it is possible to be awesome. But as Angel and Naomi’s arguments develop they feel very natural and very human. They are best friends – and that doesn’t mean that the protagonist does their thing while the best friend plays side kick in the background. It means they’re both stressed, Angel for reasons above and Naomi because she’s setting herself against her whole family. They’re stressed, they’re upset, they’re scared, they’re angry. They lash out, they argue, they hurt each other – then they forgive each other, understand, talk it out. It feels like a very real reaction to me – a friendship that doesn’t always run smooth, but becomes smooth in the end.

Then there’s Angel and Marcus – though only a minor element, I am quite happy to see the relationship drama (yes, this is me actually liking relationship drama), because it’s done well. They act like sensible adults and she doesn’t accept her lines being crossed. She warned him about making decisions for her, she doubled warned him now this needs addressing.

There’s one moment where I am torn – but I’m torn in a really good way. The scientists working for the zombies have come up with lots of shiny new toys – including drugs that work on zombies to help enhance or add to their abilities. But Angel is an addict – she’s an addict who overcome addiction because she could no longer get high off human drugs… she has always made it clear that coming off drugs is extremely hard and any character who has fought addiction is both praised and celebrated for doing something very difficult.

Angel now has access to drugs that work on her, and it’s becoming clear that this is not going to end in a good place. I cringe because I think this is going to be terrible for Angel – and I applaud because it SHOULD be, because this should be hard, because without that magic bullet of zombiehood she would have to struggle. I expect something really well done and quite painful to read.

I liked that one of the zombies brought up that another name for them is Ghouls – since Ghouls, as a creature of Middle Eastern legend, rarely gets the same attention that vampires do; it was nice to see how they would be regarded in different cultures, especially since they don’t fit our “traditional” zombie mould.  

In terms of inclusion, in addition to the excellent class issues, Kyle is a Black man and we have a minor character, Rebecca, head of security as a Black woman. Kyle is involved in the plot throughout (behind Angel and Naomi). Dr. Niklas describes a past in Thessalonica at a time when that could have been Ottoman, but given the shape changing and description, I can’t infer more than that. Unfortunately, there are no LGBT characters

This is another excellent edition in Angel’s story – and I think it very much is Angel’s Story. Even as we get involved in more elements like the zombie tribe, nefarious organisations et al, the primary focus and the main reason why this series is so excellent is that it’s still Angel’s story and she is a fascinating, conflicted and very real character whose story is always worth reading