24 September, 2022

Devil’s Wake
Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes
Atria Books
ISBN-10: 1451617003

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I’m going to say this right from the start – I am not a fan of zombies. They scare the you-know-what out of me! Of the three big supernatural monsters (Vampires, Werewolves, & Zombies) the latter scare the most because I can actually believe zombies could happen. I mean, think about it, we don’t really know what various governments have cooking in their bio-labs, just ready to release into the world. But that is a post for a different day. Anyway, when Tananarive Due announced that she and husband Steven Barnes had written a YA novel about zombies I was excited, yet hesitant. Excited because I absolutely love anything Tananarive Due writes and hesitant because – zombies? Zombies are the one topic I don’t watch movies, tv shows or even read about. I was torn. However, I had a chance to workshop with Tananarive Due and after a conversation with her, decided to bite the bullet and ask if I could read the novel for LitStack. I’m happy to say that the novel wasn’t as scary, gross, or horrific as I thought it would be.

That is not to say that Devil’s Wake isn’t scary; it is a horror novel after all, but for those of us with weaker stomachs, it’s a level that we can handle. The novel tells the story of a group of teens who find each other after a zombie apocalypse. The main characters of the story are Terry Whittaker, who is sentenced to community service at a youth camp and Kendra Brookings, an only child from a typical suburban family. The story jumps into action with the initial zombie outbreak and spends numerous chapters devoted to the first few days. Due and Barnes then do something unique: they slow down the pace of the novel. The writers give the reader a break to show the passage of time and the degradation of the country through Terry’s experience at the camp. For weaker readers, a break from all the horror is definitely needed, but it also allows the reader to fully experience the end of these character’s world. It is a nice break before the action begins again, catching up with Kendra months later.

Devil’s Wake, at that point, becomes an adventure novel as Kendra and Terry meet up, and then attempt the journey to Devil’s Wake, an island where the zombie outbreak did not reach. While Terry and Kendra are the main characters, the novel is rounded out by fully-fleshed out secondary characters, making the second half of the novel an ensemble piece and a study in human behavior. The group of seven resourceful teenagers encounter numerous obstacles on their journey, while also developing new relationships. They begin to function as a unit, but care for each other as a family by the end of the novel. Due and Barnes greatest strength is that the emotional journey of the teenagers is given the same weight as the actual action of the novel.

This book is the first zombie novel I have ever read, and while I can’t say whether I’ll read more of the genre, I’m glad that Devil’s Wake was my first. The story is a pleasant mix of action, horror, tenderness and love. The only critique I can give is that it ended too soon. Devil’s Wake is the first in a series of novels planned. The sequel, Domino’s Falls, is due out in February. I, for one, can’t wait.