Following quick on the heels of Monster Island, David Wellington’s prequel Monster Nation takes a step back from the zombie-ridden world to look at just how the world became overrun with the undead. In the second book of his zombie trilogy, Wellington goes into the origins of the zombies and the various powers at work in Monster Island while also giving readers some new characters and events to draw out this story.
As a captain in the National Guard, Banner Clark has led a life dedicated to service and protecting his country. When he’s called to inspect strange happenings at a maximum prison, his endurance and determination will be challenged repeatedly as he becomes one of the leaders in the battle against the growing zombie army. But he is not without hope. Just as the epidemic starts, he stubbles upon Nilla, a zombie with mysterious abilities including the ability to talk and to disappear. Clark puts his hopes that if he can find her, he may find a way to cure this rampaging disease.
Nilla has reawakened from sleep and a lifetime that she remembers nothing of. Though she has become a zombie, she maintains her intelligence and can resist the incessant urge to feed on life - preferably human life. After escaping from her first encounter with Clark, she is called by another force to head east toward New York, but getting there proves difficult. Along her journey, she comes to learn more about herself, the cause of the zombie epidemic, and how she alone can make it end.
As the United States slowly falls, Clark struggles with decreasing resources and increasing enemies who at times are organizing under some overpowering figure. But as Clark gets closer to Nilla, both will find some of the answers they are searching for.
Positioned as transitions throughout the book, Wellington adds small notes such as news reports, blog entries, posted signs, emergency warnings, emails, brief instant messenger discussions and the like to enhance the reality of his story. These interludes also help contextualize the passage of time from one section to the next. Wellington’s novel attempts to be political and legitimate as he follows the exploits of Clark, who rises as a military leader but must deal with the bureaucratic quagmire of Washington DC. While Wellington’s grasp and presentation of the political aspect of something like a zombie war is entertaining and helps to propel the story, his literary tactics lack the crispness than that of Max Brooks, whose recent book World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, succinctly and impressively posits what life would like be in the wake of the zombie horde. Nor does this book have the cohesiveness that Monster Island maintains. It fills in some background information, but Clark and Nilla don’t prove as interesting as the characters of Monster Island.
In the end, Monster Nation proves an enjoyable read, but fans of the first book might walk away less ecstatic than the hoorah created in the first book. Wellington’s final book in the trilogy, Monster Planet takes place twelve years after Monster Island and will potentially weave together the two books a bit tighter. That, in retrospect, may make Monster Nation feel more complete.