Book Review: ‘Feral’ by James DeMonaco and B. K. Evenson

Feral is the latest in Blumhouse’s expansion into the publishing game.  It is Blumhouse Books third title, preceded by the very creepy novel The Apartment by S. L. Grey and the excellent book of short stories, The Blumhouse Book of Nightmares: The Haunted City.

I have to say, when I came across the short stories, it felt a little bit gimmicky to me.  I love Blumhouse movies, but the idea of a book of stories in which many of the contributors are screenwriters, actors, and producers felt like a bit of a money grab, trying to appeal to movie goers instead of lovers of horror literature (not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course!).  All of that changed the second I read the foreword by the man himself, Jason Blum.  His passion for the genre was clear, and without a second thought I dove right in.  That collection is easily one of the best modern short horror story anthologies that I have ever read.  When The Apartment was released, I grabbed it off the shelf the second that it came in, and was equally impressed.  So it was with this attitude and high set of expectations that I purchased Feral.  And again, I was not disappointed.

Feral is brilliant.  It takes the best parts of zombie archetypes and fills in the holes about zombies lore that have always existed for me.  In Feral, an accident at a pharmaceutical plant sees an experimental product go airborne and cause people to go…well, feral.  The catch?  Only males are impacted, becoming extremely aggressive and attacking females on sight.

At first, this felt problematic to me.  If handled incorrectly, a book with this kind of topic can easily head into some dangerous social territory.  It could have headed into the “females are weaker than males” camp.  It could have taken a sharp turn onto the horrible road to torture porn.  It could have even gotten lost in a weird land of “all men are aggressive brutes” sexism.  It could have been ruined in a million different ways before it left the ground.  But it wasn’t.

First of all, Feral has a lot of wonderfully strong female protagonists.  They are smart, tough, and capable, and even better than that, it didn’t take an apocalypse for them to see it; they had a lot of these qualities in their lives before the explosion.  They are fully developed characters with backstories, or, in the case of some more minor characters, at the very least a distinctive voice.  They imagined to avoid the trappings of military groups in zombie movies, where there is a clear bad guy, clear good guy, and the rest all fall in line.  The main character, Allie, is sixteen when the accident happens, and it becomes clear that she is no shrinking violet; within 30 pages she has shot her father in the face with his service revolver to protect her younger sister.  Three years later, they have been surviving on their own, and have recently found a camp of surviving women that they have been staying with.

What makes Feral a little bit different from the usual point and shoot, headshot, kind of zombie story is that the authors bother to make the story make some kind of scientific sense.  At their camp, a former lab doctor for the company is working on an antidote to reverse the side effects.  These zombies are, after all, still human beings.  They didn’t die, they aren’t unkillable, their body chemistry was just altered.  I also appreciated the fact that they are thinking along the lines that if they don’t find a cure, the human race will eventually die out with no one left to reproduce.  Interestingly enough, setting it three years into the future (so not too far off from present day) allows for some interesting observations as well.  For instance, some young children who survived with their mothers don’t remember their fathers, and have a hard time believing that boys were ever around, or that sometimes boys and girls had physical relationships, because their world is not only exclusively female, but also “us vs. them.”  In one scene, the children are putting on a play of Sleeping Beauty, and they have a princess instead of a prince.  When someone asks about the prince, the director of the play says, “We can’t teach them to wait around for men to wake them up, can we?”  Interestingly, the complete absence of men as anything but monsters has created a clear divided, and most of the women are unable to think of them as men, or even people, anymore.

James DeMonaco is a writer and director known for his work on The Purge series, and his artistic filmmaker eye is extremely apparent.  Every sentence in this book encourages a visual image for the reader, and several times throughout the story I thought, “This would make a great movie!”  There was a horrifying scene near the end of the novel that gave me legitimate goosebumps and made me say, “Blech!” out loud (my dad looked up from his own book and asked what happened.  Trust me when I say that he did not want to know).

My only peeve with the book is that it takes a bit of a stroll through some YA territory.  There is a love story, and the young people drama makes it feel a little bit younger than its maturity level and audience in a few parts.  It was inevitable, I suppose, as Allie is now only nineteen, and there are a lot of girls about her age at the camp, and so drama must ensue.  It felt like it fit the characters, just not the tone of the book.  Don’t let a little YA suited content fool you…this one is bloody, violent, and brutal.  It’s a thought-provoking, horror light novel – it saves it’s big scare for the final act, but delivers on blood and action.

In other words, definitely up my alley!  I highly recommend it!

Check out more information on Blumhouse Books, including information on the new release Meddling Kids, here.

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