Review of Rachel Aukes’ “100 Days in Deadland”
100 Days in Deadland introduces the reader to a young woman living in Des Moines, Iowa who is thrust into the start of the zombie apocalypse within the very first paragraph. The story starts out with a bang, with Cash (a nickname she is given early on in the story) getting attacked by a woman who has gotten infected in her office. She narrowly escapes the assault and flees with another co-worker as everyone around them goes mad-either with infection or panic. While the duo race from the office they realize that the entire world is rapidly being consumed by the living dead and there is little hope that they will find anyplace safe. Narrowly escaping from another harrowing assault on the highway, Cash manages to hook up with an over-the-road truck driver nicknamed Clutch, who reluctantly takes her out of the city to the farm in the Iowa countryside where he lives.
Despite her efforts to appeal to his sympathetic side, Clutch isn’t too interested in lending long term shelter to Cash, who he believes, like many city dwellers, has very few real survival skills. She is just another mouth he will have to feed and protect when his main focus should be doing his best to survive on his own. But Cash is determined to prove to Clutch that she can stand on her own two feet and deal with both the undead and every other hardship that comes her way.
100 Days in Deadland tells the story of Cash’s journey through the nine circles of hell and her efforts to keep her mind and her body intact, no matter how many nightmares this new world throws at her. The author makes it clear that this tale is her translation of the first poem in Dante’s Divine comedy, as seen through the eyes of a zombie apocalypse survivor. Though she details the story’s comparable elements in the forward and afterward, and entitles each section of the book with a new circle of hell, the story requires no experience of having read any of Dante’s works to appreciate what is happening to Cash on the book’s pages.
This is not the first zompoc tale that has referenced Dante’s Inferno. Kim Paffenroth wrote an even more closely aligned tale with the main character being Dante himself in “Valley of the Dead.” That story tells the tale of how Dante survived a zombie apocalypse in a remote area of Europe which in turn influenced his writing of his master work. Rachel Aukes takes very different approach, giving the reader a modern bent on her main character’s journey through hell.
This is a fast paced, fly by the seat of your pants type story, with plenty of action to go around for the avid zombie fan. Cash is a solid main character, and since this story is told in first person, we get to see the world through her eyes as it transforms around her and how it transforms her as well-from someone who has lived a sheltered life to someone bound and determined to build the much needed callouses on her body and soul that will allow her to survive while at the same time doing her best not forgetting what it means to be human.
The zombies here are fairly traditional, with the increasingly popular slant of having them faster the more recent their infection and dependent on the level of damage they’ve absorbed. The older undead are the more well-known slow and slouching variety. Despite the tie-in to Dante, the story here is fairly traditional zombie apocalypse centered stuff, with the human menace being more fearsome and terrifying than the undead. There were some intriguing and devious combat techniques used by the villains that I will not spoil by sharing, but thought was quite creative.
Cash is an underdog character who is admittedly weak and timid at first but comes to accept that the only way she won’t be a burden and will be able to survive and thrive in this new world is to adapt and grow tougher and wiser at the same time. She learns how to fight and defend herself from Clutch, who is ex-military, and improvises given the fact that she isn’t a burly warrior with a great deal of combat experience. She also teaches Clutch to have a reason to care for someone else after having resigned himself to a solitary existence filled with nothing more than staving off the living dead.
Overall, this is a solid and entertaining zombie apocalypse book. Though the author has written this as a variation of Dante’s Inferno, it is not dramatically different than many other zombie apocalypse tales in its delivery or overall storyline. Still, the characters are accessible and appealing, the action smooth, and the journey of Cash is worth taking with her, even if the ending is a bit abrupt. I am not one to complain about cliff hanger endings, or endings that sew everything else up nicely, but this ending left me a bit frustrated, puzzled over whether the author has plans on writing her versions of Dante’s Purgatory and Paradise next or if Cash’s story is finished. Regardless of this minor criticism, this is an entertaining zombie apocalypse read worth checking out.
100 Days in Deadland can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1470188058/ref=cm_cr_thx_view