David Wellington's Monster Nation
is the follow up to his amazing debut, Monster Island
, which everyone knows I loved
. But Nation
isn't a sequel - it's actually a prequel, taking us back to the early days of the Epidemic and the attempt to stop it.
Like before, Wellington splits the storytelling between two main characters, one dead and one living. First is Nilla, who, like Gary in Monster Island
, is a fully conscious zombie, able to think and talk and pass for human. She's also amnesiac, searching for her lost identity while alternately horrified and fascinated by what she's become. The other protagonist is Bannerman Clark (what a great name!) of the National Guard, who's on the front lines of the fight against the dead. Unfortunately, his commander is a Peeps-addicted DoD civilian who knows nothing about strategy and whose own strings are being pulled by an annoying ideologue from one of those right-wing think tanks.
Wellington portrays the endless bureaucratic neepery and blind ideology of Clark's superiors very convincingly, but Clark himself is something of a non-character. He shoots and regrets and wonders how things are going to turn out, but he never comes into his own as a person, never steps out of the box his superiors put him in. Dekalb in Monster Island
was far more compelling because he had a deeply personal motivation for his actions. Clark just never stops following orders. (Nilla is a much more interesting character, and I wish Wellington had spent more time with her and less with Clark.)
The problem with prequels is that you know how everything will turn out. You know they don't stop the Epidemic. You know most of the characters you've spent the last 300 pages with will most likely die. So Wellington ups the ante in a number of ways. First, he gives Nilla a superpower that no other zombie has (I ain't telling). Then he reintroduces us to the only character in both novels, Mael Mag Och, the telepathic Celtic bog mummy (awesome!) who is setting himself up to become the King of the Dead once all the living are gone. Mael has a very special mission for Nilla, getting her to do what he wants by promising to tell her who she was in life. But the best thing Wellington does to keep our attention when we know the outcome is to slowly reveal the actual cause of the Epidemic. I won't give anything away, but I loved the fact that it wasn't a virus or anything like that. Science is involved...but so is magic.
Ultimately, Monster Nation
isn't quite as good as Monster Island
. The story and characters weren't as compelling to me, and after the smooth, accomplished prose of Island
, the writing here felt a lot more rushed and clunky in spots. Wellington writes in an unusual fashion, crafting each novel as an online serial first. He's an excellent writer and he refuses to miss any of his weekly deadlines, which is admirable, but I can't help thinking that he'd be even better if he slowed down.
I'm really excited for the third and final novel in this trilogy, Monster Planet
. According to the author, it's going to bring together characters from the first two books for a big blowout. It was scheduled for publication this fall, but with Publishers Group West's recent bankruptcy troubles (Thunder's Mouth Press is part of Avalon, which is under PGW's umbrella)...well, fingers crossed it's on schedule. I don't want to wait any longer than I have to for my next Wellington-zombie fix!