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Death Marches On With Ryan C Thomas [Book Review]

Hissers II: Death March (Grand Mal Press, 2014) by Ryan C Thomas is the sequel to Hissers (Permuted Press, 2010) that I waited nearly FOURS YEARS for. I think that’s a new record for me, but it was totally worth the wait. I reread the first book, and I recommend doing the same, so you can appreciate just how much Connor and Am have grown as characters, while maintaining the personable traits that only 14 yr olds are capable of, such as Connor’s gaming references and Am’s penchant for f-bombs.

If you begin this series expecting a typical zombie story, don’t. Yes, the infected are reanimated victims who have died from their injuries. Yes, the infection is spread through bites/wounds, and, yes, it takes a headshot to kill them, but that is where the similarities end. These are undead mutants caused by a man-made virus that was designed with a benevolent purpose in mind: to help soldiers heal faster in battle – not anything sinister like the usual government plots you find in most apocalyptic novels. I would love to tell you how the virus was made, what specific qualities it has, and how brilliantly horrific these mutated monsters are, but that would ruin the storyline.

The set-up was exquisitely crafted. (Anyone who has read my reviews is familiar with my hang-ups, and being particular about story set-ups is my biggest one.) First, readers are introduced to the experiment, and the initial success that prompts the decision to fly samples to a high profile meeting with government officials. The story then switches POVs, centering on a group of teens making plans for their last big party before the new school year. Just enough of the characters’ lives were revealed to give us their state of mind: their concerns, their plans for the future, and the friendships between them. Readers are even given glimpses into their distant childhoods which functioned as dramatic foreshadowing into the reasoning behind the hard choices they make later in the book.

I talk a good game around the apocalypse community about my survival plans, but the fact is, my 14 yr old self would not have survived in the situation dreamed up by Ryan C Thomas. That doesn’t mean the characters weren’t believable – far from it! I loved how one of the teen girls insisted on keeping her purse with her when it would have been better to run without it. I thought it was great that even with hell overwhelming their small town, one of the boys was worried about his moobs showing in front of the girls. The author did a great job of showing how the teens were clutching at the little sanity left in their thoughts, as they experience the ultimate waking nightmare.

Ryan C Thomas delivers an apocalypse series that continues to raise the horror fiction standard. I think this is one of the few horror stories that will appeal to the YA fiction crowd as well while still frightening the grown-ups. These aren’t 14 yr olds forced to grow up fast, or any other cheesy cliché…they are children who are desperate for the help of an adult – any adult…children who feel abandoned by the people who were suppose to protect them…children who can’t drive a car, and pee themselves from fright. They are not adult survivors trying to make a stand or rebuild society. They are more than aware of their limitations, and they don’t waste time with deep-thinking; they just want to stay ahead of the monsters.

The addition of adults Doug and Olive in the sequel is a wise move by Thomas, adding depth to their unusual relationships by comparison and contrast of the generational gaps between the characters. The difference in musical tastes is a clever touch as well, particularly when Doug and Am sing together during one of the most intense scenes in the novel.

Thomas managed to include quite the menagerie of monsters: mutant zombies, undead leviathons and a few others that I won’t give away. Some action scenes explode on the pages, while others slowly creep up when you’re not expecting anything major to happen. I felt the survivors’ desperation to find some place to catch their breath during their insane quest to keep a promise to a friend.

I can’t wait to find out how this trilogy ends!


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