Last book Angel, literally, fell apart. It’s a zombie problem.
She’s back together now - but there’s another zombie problem: Shamblers. Mindless, hungry, aggressive… and contagious. Suddenly all of those fantastical images of a zombie apocalypse seem very real. And no matter what the outcome, it won’t end well for the zombies of the Tribe
The Tribe is willing to go to extreme levels to find a cure as soon as possible, even work with sworn enemies like Christy Charish. As more and more of their human loved ones are at risk, time is running out and Angel worries her own past choices may be responsible for the growing body count.
Angel struggles to find a cure, to be taken seriously, to protect the ones she loves even as she resolves their complicated relationship. And she has zombiegators. Which are awesome.
The plot here is a wonderful investigation of a new zombie plague which draws upon… everything
Y’know, while acknowledging that I am an utter fanpoodle here, I have to say how good Diana Rowland is doing this. She takes these wonderful long series, pulls together many themes and events - and then when getting to the later books in the series manages to bring together EVERYTHING - yet at the same time makes it work! She did the same thing with the equally awesome Kara Gillian series. We’re drawing on Angel’s relationship with her father, we have her ex boyfriend and his family and conflict, her relationship with the Tribe, how they survive, the moral quandaries they face, keeping their secret and not going into the dark side, Sabreton’s shenanigans, her job, her love life: all of it is here. And all of it works.
We continue the world building of the Tribe, the conflicts they face deciding how to keep surviving. We have some really excellent explorations of zombie history, the nature of Mature Zombies and their abilities and even a moment where a past assumption/theory is disproved. I really like this because how often is mystical world building presented as solid unquestionable fact? That isn’t how science works, it’s never how science works.
The world building remains solid. The investigation is fun, well paced, full of heavy emotion and with several wrong turns and red herrings capped off with some really excellent twists. The balance of all those world elements is excellently mixed with the plot so the pacing remains good - in fact it works even better because these red herrings and frustrated lack of leads never makes the book feel slow (which can be a problem in investigation books)
And seeing Angel spar with Christy, especially at the end, is excellent. Seeing Angel hold her own is generally always fun
The main, joyous, most perfect part of this series has always been Angel Crawford herself. Her story, her growth, her journey has just been amazing since the very first book and a perfect take on class and gender and disability and growth and maturity and education vs intelligence and so much more. In the beginning she was a drug addict and didn’t generally have her life together - but becoming a zombie we have followed her from book to book to see her get things sorted. We’ve seen her kicking her habit, get her education, hold down her job, put her relationship with a dad on a much better level. This book continues all of this and more: we see Angel becoming more and more confident in herself. We see her actually now having goals and ambitions for herself and even considering a full career and realising she can be so much more. And she’s setting those ambitions high - encouraged by excellent people who support her like Dr. Nykas - things she considered impossible are now within her grasp and she believes she can do it - get a degree, become a scientist and researcher alongside Dr. Nykas. Just the fact that she now believes she can do this just shows how far she has come in terms of confidence
We also see some how she’s grown with her relationships - because she’s no longer taking any condescension from the people around her. She isn’t stung by Christy taking jabs at her intelligence because she knows she’s wrong. We have seen her challenge Marcus in the past about the condescending way he’s treated her - but this evolves into her standing her ground with everyone: including Pierce leader of the Tribe. What I especially really really really really really really love here is how she challenges Pierce and others for looking down on her, giving her orders or otherwise telling her what to do EVEN WHEN she may be wrong. Even when she concedes she makes a mistake or something she does doesn’t go as well as she’d hoped - she is still very clear that her being wrong doesn’t mean she’s stupid or doesn’t have good judgement or needs to do as she’s told or not take the lead. Angel has arrived at a place where she knows she deserves respect and demands that. And it’s beautiful. Angel does her own thing, makes her own decisions and demands to be respected as an equal by everyone. And there’s no spunky agency at all! Every decision Angel makes, even wrong ones - are excellently made and reasonable.
Another thing this book did a good job of correcting is other female characters. Angel has kind of moved through a very very male world: she has female friends (like Naomi/Julia) and her friend,the actress - but they play very very very minor roles in the plot and rarely take part in the plot. On top of that we had Nicole and Christy, who are antagonists and evil and even Rachel, the female zombie member of the tribe Does Not Like Angel even slightly. Most of the people around Angel were male and the people around her who she respected were overwhelmingly male
But here we have the renewed relationship between her and Rachel, we have Portia being introduced who quickly becomes a close friend of Angel’s and despite the odd speed of the relationship, it really works: as does her politician friend rising up again. Now Angel has several women around her: alongside this is some nice sexism and class challenges between Angel and Christy as well as ongoing disability representation with Angel (dyslexic, and the steps she has to take to be educated with that) as well as Nykas’s ongoing crowd anxiety. We also have a woman in a hijab as the Tribe’s chief accountant and inner circle.
We have a lesbian character and a passing policeman who is gay but neither are particularly important. One interesting concept is one of the most ancient mature zombies. Mature zombies can assume the bodies of people they eat - and that includes switching genders. We learn that one especially ancient zombie was born a woman… but they don’t really explore or discuss their gender identity, more discussing that it was, well, convenient to be a man through most of history due to sexism but not really examining what gender this character regards themselves to be.
We have cute alligator pets. They’re amazing, I love them and Angel and them are adorable. I hope she keeps them. I never knew alligators could be cute - which they are.