It’s near impossible nowadays to read a new novel or novel series involving zombies that isn’t overly formulaic and almost a carbon copy of every other zombie story out there. Sometimes, though, you manage to find a story that elevates itself a bit above the fray; Devil's Wake does just that with its fast pace and truly likeable characters. In fact, it’s the characters that make this story unique enough to stand out, because they get you invested in their lives, their emotions and their fears from the beginning.
The authors have presented a typical zombie story about an infection that spreads like wildfire, turning loved ones into zombies that bite their prey. Once the infection virtually wipes out a large chunk of the population, you have a band of survivors who set off on a journey to try and find safe haven. This time around, it’s a group of young adults stranded at a camp who pick up along the way a lovely girl on the run after her own beloved grandfather tries to kill her, and a very damaged but tough female soldier who doesn’t trust or open up easily.
The main tug of the story comes courtesy of the two leads: Terry, a somewhat reformed juvenile delinquent on the run from the camp he was attending which has fallen to the infected, and Kendra, a 16-year-old girl who at first can barely speak but begins to blossom under duress and the care of the protective Terry. The sparks between them and their growing closeness gives the story a real humanity and emotional depth that balances the usual zombie blood and violence.
The fact that these are young people trying to survive in a very adult and very dangerous world, often in ways that involve necessary violence and coldness such as turning away survivors for fear of their own safety, adds emotional impact. The times these kids should be partying and planning their futures and falling in love and looking for a good college have been replaced with simply surviving—and not just from the “freaks,” as they call the zombies, but the perfectly human “pirates” who come out of the woodwork in any major disaster. The authors again hit the target in portraying the difficulties of staying humane in a world that has lost its humanity as the kids encounter others like them and wonder who they can trust.
This book is the first of a series (the title refers to a safe haven they hope to arrive at hundreds of miles away), and it ends on an open note that leaves you wanting to continue on and find out what happens to Terry and Kendra, and if they ever make it to a safe place. That level of the story keeps you going, even through the more formulaic plot points that you’ve seen a dozen times in other novels.