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Audible recommended “Until the End of the World” by Sarah Lyons Fleming to me. The description was intriguing. No one asked me to provide a review or anything and I bought this book myself. I thought that other preppers and zombie fans would enjoy it, too, so I wanted to share my review! No spoilers in the review, so read on!
Cassie Forrest isn’t surprised to learn that the day she’s decided to get her life together is also the day the world ends. After all, she’s been on a self-imposed losing streak since her survivalist parents died: she’s stopped painting, broken off her engagement to Adrian and dated a real jerk. Rectifying her mistakes has to wait, however, because Cassie and her friends have just enough time to escape Brooklyn for her parents’ cabin before Bornavirus LX turns them into zombies, too. This is difficult enough, but Cassie’s tag along ex-boyfriend and her friend’s bratty sister have a knack for making everything, even the apocalypse, more unpleasant. When the two attract a threat as deadly as the undead to their safe haven, Cassie’s forced to see how far she’ll go to protect those she loves. And it’s a lot farther than she’d anticipated. This, coupled with Adrian’s distant voice on Safe Zone Radio and, of course, the living dead, threaten to put Cassie right back into the funk she just dragged herself out of. Survival’s great and all, especially when you have leather armor, good friends and home-brewed beer, but there’s something Cassie must do besides survive: tell Adrian she still loves him. And to do that, Cassie has to find faith that she’s stronger than she thinks, she’s still a crack shot and true love never dies.
This book is prepper-fic disguised as a zombie book disguised as literary fiction! I have tried to read other prepper-fics, but until now I have yet to find one I enjoy. (Yes, I’ve tried twice to read One Second After and did not enjoy it at all. I thought the Mary Sue main character was obnoxious and I didn’t believe any of the characters’ reactions. I know, I know, I should turn in my prepper card.) Most prepper fics feature heavy political and religious themes that don’t mesh with my particular mindset.
This book steered clear of this for the most part. Although there’s one heavily Christian character, his religion’s handled so well and unobtrusively that it didn’t bother me at all. Most important, the religion was an important part of his character. It wasn’t there just to bash you over the head. The same is true for the gay character. It was part of who he was, not just a trope or caricature to make a point.
In fact, the thing that stands out about all the characters is that they’re neither stupid nor sanctimonious. (For the most part, but where they are it’s true to the character. No spoilers, though, so I can’t say more!) Yes, they make mistakes and they make bad choices on occasion, but they do them with sound reasons. This is a very character-driven book. Although the author excels at the terror aspects, this is about Cassie and her relationships. It’s about finding her place and growing up.
This is also a great ensemble piece, which is hard to do in a book with first-person narration. Each character is fleshed out and given their own reasons for being part of the story. I found myself cheering for the whole lot of them, even the ones I started out disliking! None of the characters were super heroes, either. Cassie and crew were normal folks caught up in an abnormal situation.
Lest you think “but where are the zombies?”, the author really excels at the terror, too. The zombies were horrifying and the danger felt real and visceral. The first half of the book was particularly chilling as Cassie and her friends survived the swift and grisly collapse of civilization. Bornavirus LX is as reasonable an explanation for zombies as any, so it wasn’t hard to suspend disbelief. There were several places I was biting my nails, wondering how Cassie and crew would get through it all!
This suffered a little in the pacing, though. As exciting as the scary parts were, there were long stretches that were pretty mundane. The flash backs were critical to characterization, but they seemed odd juxtaposed with zombie action. There were a few stretches that had great prepping information, but which didn’t move the story forward. Thankfully, the writing was so strong that slow doesn’t mean boring, which is a hard thing to manage as a writer.
It’s Prepper Fic
But the bit that I loved best about this book is it reflects preppers as normal. Ok, as maybe a little out there, but for the most part normal with good intentions. It highlights that, yeah, prepping may seem a little kooky when times are good, but should anything go wrong it will save your life in a dozen ways.
Fleming does a great job of showing the varied ways people respond to a major crisis like a pandemic. Some rise to the occasion, many do not. Through the individuals that Cassie encounters you get a good cross-section of human reactions to crisis. I do think that Fleming’s characters tend toward more helpful and positive than most real people would be. Then again, those are the folks who would more likely survive and thrive in a real disaster.
This book also rightly shows how you cannot depend on the government to save you in a crisis. Their priorities are different than saving every individual, and once a crisis hits a certain point, even the best-intentioned government policies won’t protect you. Only people who are prepared to help themselves will be able to help others in a major crisis.
Cassie has skills that help those around her survive. It’s not just the stuff stockpiled, but she knows what to do. It makes her a valuable resource for her friends and other survivors. She’s not afraid to share those skills (or stuff, for that matter) with those who show they’re willing to be partners. She’s also not afraid to deal with those who would rather take than share.
As I stated at the beginning of the review, I bought this as an audio book. Julia Whelan did an excellent job narrating. If you recognize that name she also narrated the great book “Gone Girl” among many others. The diction was perfect, which is important for those of us whose hearing isn’t 100%. I loved her characterizations. I was almost always certain who was speaking just from Whelan’s intonations. She kept the pace up without rushing, too.
This book is a keeper and one I’ll definitely read again. I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in the series. There’s a novella and two other full-length novels, plus a new series coming out set in the same universe. I’m so excited to find out more about what happens to Cassie and her friends. I’m really glad I found this book. A well-written, fun zombie book that also aligns with my values and beliefs? Yes, please and thank you!
Get your copy here (affiliate link)