Science fiction and fantasy                                            


by Peter Stenson


Usually in books about the zombie apocalypse it's normal to root for the survival of the last humans. But Fiend is no ordinary end of the world and the main character, Chase, is a meth addict. When he first comes across a young girl tearing out a rottweiler's throat he thinks he's having a paranoid hallucination. However, it's soon clear that the horror is all too real, and nothing will ever be the same.

Chase and his junkie friend Typewriter leave home in search of a ready supply of drugs. Chase also wants to know whether his former girlfriend KK is still alive. She left him because of his addiction, but he's still deeply in love with her and he wants them to get back together. He also wants to save her from all the zombies. Whether he also saves her new boyfriend is up for debate.

The story is a manic road trip where nobody is safe for very long and the body count is high. They meet other junkies and those able to create the drugs, and they get tooled up like action heroes in order to defend themselves. It's a volatile mix, even before you factor in bloodthirsty zombies. The undead move quickly and respond to sound, so although they're not smart they aren't shufflers. Meanwhile, the living can't be trusted to care about anyone other than themselves. With so many survivors strung out on crystal meth it's a wonder anyone stays alive for very long.

This is a depressing horror, because the reality of Chase's life is so miserable it made me wonder why he or anyone would want to carry on living. He's a physical wreck, his relationships are full of sniping and bad feeling, and civilisation has come to an end. Chase himself isn't sympathetic, he's just pathetic and selfish. He has moments of humour and good will, but they don't often outweigh the negatives. During his periods of chemically-induced good humour he has flashes of heroism when he seems poised to lead all his friends to safety, find a cure, and restart society.

There are no speech marks in the entire novel, a pretty annoying stylistic quirk which meant I had to keep re-reading to figure out who, if anyone, was speaking.

You may wonder why I rate such a bleak, violent story with an unlikeable protagonist as worth reading. Firstly, it seems to be very true to the psychological experience of addiction: the lies, self-deception, intense mood swings and extreme paranoia. As such it's fascinating. Secondly, it's a rollercoaster thrill-ride that never lets up. Chase did grow on me, so that by the end the conclusion had quite a big impact. So Fiend is worthwhile and interesting, so long as you have the stomach for all the grimness.

7th December 2015

Book Details

Year: 2013

Categories: Books

  Male Protagonist  
  Not For The Squeamish  

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4 star rating

Review ©

Source: review copy

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