The final book in the imaginatively-named Newsflesh Trilogy, in which society survives the zombie apocalypse but in a form almost unreconisable to the one we know today, Blackout is all about reunions, farewells and yes, the revealing and bringing to justice of those behind the great conspiracy that has propelled much of the narrative in this wholly gripping series.
While the idea of the undead going to town on our mortal living selves may not be the most original of ideas, Mira Grant, the pen name for Seanan McGuire, takes it and runs with it – not in high heels or sandals mind you because that will just get you killed if a zombie horde is in pursuit – investing the near-future world of 2041 with the spectre of repressive security, the possibility of death cropping up while grocery shopping or checking into a hotel and a near-pervasive sense that while humanity has survived, it’s been at the expense of its soul.
Our entry into this zombie-infested social landscape is via news bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason, adopted brother and sister, who have a consummate passion for the truth and exposing it to the readers of their lucrative After the End Times site, but completely different ways of approaching and articulating their craft.
Shaun is, or was, an Irwin (named after the Aussie adventurer and wildlife activist Steve), a group of bloggers dedicated to going out in the field to the towns and countryside abandoned to the zombies, their great thrill coming from courting danger and living (or sometimes not) tell about it.
Newsies, which is what Georgia is, or was, or is again – much of this book concerns her reawakening as a clone in a mysterious facility with murky reason for being and a suspicious purpose – are far more factually-based, their main aim to find a story, validate it and report, as objectively as possible on it.
Different approaches yes, but the same aim – to make sure that people, in a society tightly constrained by fear of doing anything that’s not “safe” – this means outdoor activities are definitely out as is owning large animals (all mammals can be infected by what’s known as the Kellis-Amberlee virus) – are aware of what’s happening around them.
It’s an even more important, pressing calling given the fact that the overriding narrative is that the world isn’t safe, everyone is always in danger and the only ones who can help you are the US government and the Centres for Disease Control; while true in many regards, it allows for certain nefarious groups to exercise far more control than is good for society as a whole and its ability to come to terms with the new reality of human existence.
But as the first two books in the series, Feed and Deadline, beautifully explored, what seemed like a good idea at the time, to keep people under mental and emotional lock & key, the better to manipulate them with, has devolved into a repression so ruthless and cold that it threatens to pull down society in ways that beggar the imagination.
Blackout‘s main goal is exposing the ghostly puppet masters behind the continuing carnage, people who are content to kill millions if it means the twisted status quo, one which keeps society in a constant state of fearful triage, is maintained.
While it doesn’t always acquit itself quite as well as you might like – the ending feels a little rushed and anticlimactic, shoehorned into roughly the last 120 pages of a 574 page book – what it does, it does extremely well.
The sense of tension is palpable, as is the emotional turmoil of Georgia, who is grappling with the fact that she is a clone with 97% of her old memories – just don’t ask her about her 5th birthday party OK? – and the existential angst of Shaun, who is going ever more crazy talking to his dead sister.
Granted she’s not dead anymore, well in some form at least, but it’s not until well into Blackout that the two siblings, who share a much closer bond that has hitherto been revealed, come together, and determine, with the help of fellow bloggers Maggie, Becks, Mahir and Alaric, that they’re going to take the conspiracy down once and for all.
It’s a rallying cry all right, but the momentum of the book is stop-start in that regard, with much of the lead-up action not really getting the characters where they need to go; however, this is more than balanced out by some beautiful, emotionally-resonant character work, some biting, hilarious oneliners and a strong sense of bondedness and teamwork that gives the book an us-against-the-world feel.
That it, in the end, more the point of this series, and this book in particular, than anything else – that whatever the circumstances, and the zombie apocalypse is as dire as they come, that what matters is community, love, and a willingness to tell the truth, whether personally, professionally or politically.
They may sound like impossibly high-faluting ideals which have no place in a world rent asunder by the Rising of 2014 and then sort of rebuilt in an altogether different image, but they are the moral and ethical lifeblood of Blackout and its predecessors, giving it a resonance, depth and intelligence that far exceeds many of its undead genre mates.
While ostensibly the story of Georgia and Shaun Mason, the entire series is really about the value we place on freedom, truth and friendship & love, and how far we’ll go to protect or restore it, even if it means giving up everything we have in the process.
As series enders go, Blackout does a great job, bar a few narrative momentum wobbles, continuing the great worldbuilding, character interactions and snappy dialogue that has made the Newsflesh Trilogy such an impressive standout.