The First Days: As the World Dies
Rhiannon Frater

Tor
Trade Paper, 336 pages, $14.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt

Finding strength in the face of adversity is a motif in The First Days: As the World Dies. Author Rhiannon Frater examines the zombie apocalypse with a fearless feminist’s eye, and a tender feminine heart. Her two stalwart women protagonists emotionally evolve during the course of the narrative. They lament losses of loved ones, and survivor’s guilt runs high. But, as in any war, the situation of now takes precedence over what happened then. Grief is often put on the back burner or channeled into anger. A build up of tension ensues. Fighting to stay human and humane, the female duo bond. To her credit, Frater wisely balances the internal struggles with bloody good action sequences.

The book opens with unnerving imagery: Tiny fingers pressed under a front door, trying to reach a shivering woman. The dactyls belong to the woman’s zombified daughter. Mommy knows not to let the child in; other members of the family have succumbed to the horrific transformation. Jenni, the young mother, is a victim of spousal abuse. Her children had provided a haven in the hostile household, then everything suddenly changed. The sight of those small digits turn maternal feelings upside down; a toddler, once so precious, has become a monster.

Jenni is in a paralyzed state of fear when she is rescued by psychically wounded, yet resourceful Katie. Katie, a bisexual who lost her same sex partner in a zombie assault, is perceptive and kind. Jenni responds to the warmth, although the loving relationship that blossoms is platonic. Both gals develop survival skills culled from dormant tenacity. Dispatching the undead is a thrill ride for Jenni. All the years of latent fury explode when she is given a gun and can shoot zombies in the head. Katie is less fanatical about annihilation. The love of her life was tragically transmogrified and Katie ran away. The concept of mercy killing comes with psychological baggage.

During their flight, the attractive twosome meets more Texans who have endured comparable ordeals. The visceral victims converge in a man-made fortress; its architectural weaknesses mirroring the fissures in the psyches of the assembly. Tensions mount and tenuous kinships are formed. Each day produces new challenges and revelations. Jenni is madly liberated: probing her sexual and social potential. Katie’s horrifically aborted commitment to a lesbian marriage is further confounded by a fellow named Travis. He is the prototype of the sensitive male: A guy driven by instincts, who frequently gets hurt in consequence.

The complex condition of the characters rather reflects the convoluted development of the novel itself. Author Frater wrote almost daily installments of the work online. Receiving resounding internet acceptance of the yarn, she decided to self-publish. Within a year, the writer had received two offers to reissue The First Days, and its two sequels. And there’s a film option. Like the discerning dames she created, Rhiannon Frater reacted to the entreaties of the circumstances. The touching tale, laden with febrile anxiety, deservedly found an enthusiastic cyberspace readership. Those fans paved the way for its Tor publication. What a lovely story of communication and connection.

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