Deadline, by Mira Grant

I picked up a copy of Deadline [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] last fall. It’s one of my favorite autographed books, inscribed to Jim “Bite me” Hines, which puts it right up there with the one John Scalzi signed to me as his thong buddy. Deadline is on the Hugo ballot for Best Novel, so this seems like the perfect time to talk about the book.

This is book two in Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy. (I talked about book one here.) And there’s no way to talk about it without major spoilers for book one, so it’s cut tag time.

Book one was told from the point of view of Georgia Mason, a young blogger/reporter following the presidential campaign … up until a conspiracy resulted in her being infected with live Kellis-Amberlee virus, at which point her brother Shaun shot her in the back of the head to prevent her from rising as a zombie.

Book two is from Shaun’s perspective, and he is broken. Not damaged. Not grieving. Broken. He converses with his dead sister every day, and George talks right back. He’s now in charge of their news organization, but he’s mostly given up on the daredevil antics of his old Irwin days. He fully expects to die–at times he seems to look forward to it–but first he’s going to find whoever was behind the conspiracy that led to George’s murder, and then he’s going to kill them a lot. When a doctor from the CDC arrives on his doorstep after faking her death, Shaun and his team set out to find the truth.

This is very much the middle book of a trilogy. You don’t have the Shiny Newness of exploring a new world like you do in book one, and you don’t get the closure and resolution I’m looking forward to in book three. There are revelations, there are twists, and there are lots and lots of zombies. The stakes get significantly higher, with plenty of “Oh, shit!” moments both for the individual characters and for the whole messed-up world.

One revelation I particularly appreciated was the reason the villain from book one felt rather over-the-top by the end. That bugged me in book one, but makes a bit more sense now.

What made this book for me was the character of Shaun, a very different kind of walking dead man. He’s fully aware of how damaged he is. He takes stupid risks, lashes out at his team, talks to and occasionally even sees his dead sister. I spent much of the book wondering if he could ever come back from this, or if the trilogy is going to end with Shaun’s death. At the same time, his obsession and his damage make him the perfect person to search for the truth, as any sane person would probably have run like hell the first time the bad guys firebombed an entire town to try to protect their secrets…

I talked to my wife (a licensed counselor) about Shaun’s reactions, and she said the kind of conversations he’s having with his dead sister would be unusual, but certainly not unheard of.  So kudos to Grant for getting the psych piece right.

I only had a few nitpicks about the book. For my taste, there were a few too many scenes where Shaun was talking to George and making others uncomfortable because “Shaun’s crazy.” And while I know perfectly well this is the middle book, I like closure, dammit! But I also recognize that’s not what this book is.

If you read and enjoyed Feed, then I’d definitely recommend Deadline too. And if you do, you should probably go ahead and preorder Blackout as well…

Discussion welcome, as always! I can’t say whether or not I’ll vote for this one for the Hugo, because I haven’t read the others yet, but I’d love to hear what people think.