Orbit, 2011, 420 pages
Shaun Mason is a man without a mission. Not even running the news organization he built with his sister has the same urgency as it used to. Playing with dead things just doesn't seem as fun when you've lost as much as he has.
But when a CDC researcher fakes her own death and appears on his doorstep with a ravenous pack of zombies in tow, Shaun has a newfound interest in life. Because she brings news - he may have put down the monster who attacked them, but the conspiracy is far from dead.
Now, Shaun hits the road to find what truth can be found at the end of a shotgun.
Warning: Spoilers for Feed, the first book of the trilogy.
I really liked Feed, in which Mira Grant (a pen name for Seanan McGuire) created a zombified world of 2041, in which people live in fortified enclaves, and even the most trivial errand involves batteries of blood tests at every checkpoint and the certainty of being shot in the head if you test positive for the Kellis-Amberlee virus.
Book one also introduced the conceit of bloggers becoming the real news media, since when the Rising happened in 2014, the "mainstream" news suppressed the truth while bloggers were warning people about flesh-eating zombies and the need to go for head-shots. We were introduced to George (Georgia) and Shaun Mason, adopted siblings who jointly ran a blogging news site that covered a presidential campaign in this post-zombie apocalypse America. Of course things go very wrong on the campaign trail: zombies, conspiracies, dead characters, etc.
At the end of book one, Shaun had to shoot his sister George in the head after she "amplified," having been infected with the Kellis-Amberlee virus.
So, about half of book two is Shaun moping about his dead sister. Which seriously got old. The author also kind of "cheats" after having killed off one of her two main characters in book one: Shaun still hears George in his head. Constantly. She's for all practical purposes still an active character, giving him advice, offering commentary, engaging in witty banter with her crazy brother, reminding him that she's actually a figment of his imagination, etc. Except she's such a constant presence that I was half-convinced the author was going to reveal that she somehow was actually there, although psychic powers or a mind-meld would have been pretty outside the scope of the setting.
This didn't bother me as much as how downright creepy it is that Shaun is so fixated on his sister. I mean, in book one, it was kind of disturbing that these two young adults appeared to have no close friends and no romantic relationships, only each other. Are you really going to go there, Mira Grant? Well, it's sure hinted at in book two; when Shaun does get a chance to hook up with a sexy blogger employee of his who's been all but throwing herself at him forever, he sleeps with her, and then calls her by his sister's name.
Besides Shaun's obvious issues, there's the fact that his friends and coworkers are constantly walking on eggshells around him because if they mention George's death (or suggest that maybe talking to your dead sister whose voice you can hear in your head is not an indicator of good mental health), he's likely to throw a violent tantrum.
Dude, you lost your sister. You live in the world of a zombie post-apocalypse: everyone has lost loved ones. If Mira Grant had shown us how society-wide PTSD was unhinging everyone, then Shaun's coping mechanism (or lack thereof) might have been a poignant commentary, but it just makes him look unhinged and dangerous, which made me question why his friends and employees stayed so loyal to him.
That said, although I've been pointing out the things that bugged me about Deadline, I really liked it, as much as I liked Feed, even though the flaws in Grant's worldbuilding (and the deeply dysfunctional nature of her main characters) were more apparent. The plot boils along, the stakes go up and up and up, and naturally not everyone survives.
Supposedly this book addresses one of the big weaknesses in the first book: the cardboard caricaturization of the main villain, and his eeeeevil but not terribly rational scheme. It kind of did, in that we learn there are even more eeeeevil people involved in a much bigger conspiracy, but my suspension of disbelief was occasionally hanging on by its fingernails.
Finally, there is another BIG TWIST at the end. Which, from reading other reviews, had a lot of readers going "Holy shit!" but not me, because as soon as the CDC researcher showed up earlier in the story and introduced the cloning subplot, I just knew where Grant was going. I knew she was going to do that.
Nonetheless, I do need to know what happens next.
Have you read Deadline?
Verdict: The Newsflesh trilogy is a real page-turner. Even if the story sometimes stretches credibility (come on, it's zombies!), there aren't a lot of books I've read lately that make me want to zoom through them so quickly. Deadline has a few weaknesses that make it slightly less convincing than the first book, but I'm still eager to read book three.
Also by Mira Grant: My review of Feed.
My complete list of book reviews.