I’m always on the look out for a good zombie apocalypse book as, all too often, they are badly written, cliched and overflowing with gratuitous blood, gore, violence and testosterone-fuelled machismo. As an ‘older’ woman, who also happens to be a zombie fan, I can never identify with the characters in these books and always find myself left with the same question – “What would an ordinary woman like me do when the zombie apocalypse comes to my town?”
Over the years I have discovered some satisfying reads. The Girl with All the Gifts and The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey, World War Z by Max Brooks, and Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion are all up there among the best for me. All of them contain imaginative and interesting plots and authentic and sympathetic characters who react in believable ways to the end of the world as they know it and the threat of being eaten by dead people. I have also played some great games that have given me some sense of how I might fare in the apocalypse, the best by far of those being The Last of Us and The Last of Us II.
I even took part in a reality TV show called I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse that aired on BBC3 in 2015. A cross between Big Brother and The Crystal Maze, this involved a dozen or so members of the public being locked up in an abandoned shopping centre with a troop of zombies – courtesy of Scare Scotland – and having to undergo a series of survival type challenges. The basic premise was that if you got caught you got eaten and were out of the show. My strategy, which involved literally zero machismo behaviour, was to try and make myself indispensable to the other survivors by cooking and cleaning in the vain hope that this might dissuade them from sending me out on missions. I made it to day 6 of 7 before being killed in a freezer by a super-zombie called the Abomination.
In 2021 I attempted to answer the question by writing my own book, Wait for Me, set at the start of the zombie apocalypse in the UK. The main character, Lisa, an introverted and overly analytical forty plus woman, is on a train on the way home from London to Solihull when a devastating, bio-terrorist attack occurs. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, which turns 90% of the population into zombies, she decides to try and get home to her husband and sets out on the most difficult 20-mile journey of her life.
World Departed is the first book I have read in a long time that looks at how ‘ordinary’ people would react in the zombie apocalypse. It is also the best ‘quality’ zombie book I have read in a long time in terms of the writing. I came across the book in the 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards where it was 19th in the horror category. I finished it yesterday and I loved it! So much so that I have looked up and downloaded the first of all her other books (Until the End of the World) which I am now about to binge on in chronological order. Hopefully, by the time I have finished, the sequel to World Departed, World Between, will have been released.
What I liked:
For me, it was all about the characters. All of them were, authentic, flawed, complicated, and very, very ordinary. Most were likable to the point of being adorable and even the unlikable ones were described and explained in a way that made their behaviours and motivations at least understandable. They way that they developed and grew throughout the course of the book was well-handled and convincing.
The quality of the writing was excellent. An light and easy read, it was heavily dialogue-based but with enough description and action to give the story atmosphere and pace.
Despite the seriousness of the situation the book was sprinkled with humour. The banter between the characters was sharp and witty and at times that I laughed aloud while reading.
I loved the location. What a perfect place to survive the apocalypse. I have just finished playing the zombie game, Days Gone which was set in the wilderness of Oregon and at times I wondered if the game had been inspired by Sarah Lyons Fleming’s writing, or even if she had contributed to the script for the game. There were also some scenes in the book that were reminiscent of some in The Last of Us. E.g., trying on hats in the museum.
There was a fair bit of romance going on between several of the characters. In fact, most of the key characters had some sort of developing love interest. Looking at the blurbs and some of the reviews for her other books, it seems that this is a key feature of the authors’s writing. You could even go so far as to say that she writes romance novels set in the zombie apocalypse. I wouldn’t normally go for a romance read myself, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story.
There was truly little that I didn’t like about this book.
Of course, I didn’t like Ethan and his ‘friend’ Eva, but I don’t think I was meant to.
I was a little disappointed with the ending. It wasn’t really an ending for me. It made sure that I would buy the sequel to find out what happens next, but I prefer my books to have a beginning, a middle and an end in their own right. I felt a little bit as if I were left ‘hanging’.
For me, some of the characters settled in a tad too quickly to their new way of life to make it completely believable. I’m not sure that ‘real’ people would be laughing and joking just a few days into the zombie apocalypse. I think they might have been a bit more shocked and distressed than they appeared and that it would have taken longer than it did for them to adapt and recover. Nor would they be thinking about getting romantically involved with someone else quite so soon after their wife and son had been killed in the most horrific away imaginable.
Finally, it was a tiny bit predictable in the sense that, after the first couple of chapters, nothing bad happened to any of the key characters. When I finally realised that none of them were going get killed or seriously injured it took a little of the suspense out of some of the action scenes.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed World Departed and can’t wait to read the next book in the series.