Sunday, February 22, 2015

Drifters - John L. Campbell

An Omega Days Novel
John L. Campbell

Note:  If you haven’t read the first two novels in this series, OMEGA DAYS and SHIP OF THE DEAD, this review contains many unavoidable spoilers.
At the end of the second book, Angie West was still tormented by thoughts of the fate of her family.  Angie and her husband, Dean, are both gun enthusiasts and survivalists.  Thus, they’re better prepared than most to deal with a zombie apocalypse.  They have a plan for any kind of crisis. The plan is to get to the ranch owned by Angie’s parents.  It’s isolated and defensible; there’s a bunker that’s stocked with food, water, and weapons.  Angie knows it's where Dean would have headed with their toddler daughter.  She has to know if they survived.

A few of her fellow survivors agree to accompany Angie on her search.  Privately, they feel it may be hopeless, but they can't let her go alone.  The freeways are choked with the abandoned and wrecked vehicles of panicked people fleeing cities; communications are down.  The only way to get in and out of the area in any kind of safety is to use the one helicopter (and pilot) available to them.  They land in an open area on a neighboring ranch, where they find Halsey, a ranch hand who has managed to survive alone since the outbreak.  Vladimir, the pilot, and Halsey agree to stay behind to guard the helicopter while the rest set off across the rugged terrain.

There are two timelines at work here: one for Angie and her group, beginning just after the events of the second book; and another for Dean and other characters, beginning just before the original outbreak.  The wise reader will take careful note of the date listed for each chapter.  While Dean is racing to get out of town without traumatizing his small daughter, other survivors are trying to make their own way.  For many, that means banding together with other people and finding someplace safe to hide for a while.  Little Emer, the leader of a motorcycle gang, has bigger plans.  He uses the crisis to set up a sort of fiefdom.  He styles himself as some sort of present-day Roman emperor and sends his people out to take what they need/want, no matter who gets hurt or killed.
In this installment, the scope of the story begins to widen a bit.  The events of the first book are a few months in the past by the time the two timelines converge, and human beings have become just as big a threat as the zombies.  Of course, everyone wants to survive, but different people have radically different ideas about how to accomplish that.  There’s still plenty of action, chases, and running gun battles, but this book contains some quiet moments, too.  Most of these are centered on Vladimir and Halsey, spending their evenings swapping stories while they wait for the search team to return.  These scenes are a nice contrast and allow the two characters and their unlikely friendship to develop naturally.

The author really excels at setting the scene.  We get glimpses into the lives of the survivors and what their lives were like before the world collapses.  We also see bits of the lives of a few zombies – who and what they were before they turned.  It humanizes them and gives the story more emotional punch.  As always, there’s no telling who is going to survive and who will not.  Some deaths seem fated, but others come as a shock.  Along the way, there are some new developments.  A few of the zombies are changing, becoming more aware; presenting a much more dangerous foe to the living.  There are some loose threads left at the end.  I hope that means more in this series, and soon.
Rating: 8 ½
January 2015
ISBN# 978-0-425-27265-7 (trade paperback)


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