Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review: The First Days by Rhiannon Frater

Title: The First Days
Author: Rhiannon Frater
Series: As the World Dies #1
Pages: 335
Publisher: TOR
Date Published: July 5, 2011
Format: Trade Paperback
Genre: Zombie/Post-Apocalyptic
Source: Won from the Bookish Brunette during Zombie Craze!

The morning that the world ends, Katie is getting ready for court and housewife Jenni is taking care of her family. Less than two hours later, they are fleeing for their lives from a zombie horde. Thrown together by circumstance, Jenni and Katie become a powerful zombie-killing partnership, mowing down zombies as they rescue Jenni's stepson, Jason, from an infected campground.They find sanctuary in a tiny, roughly fortified Texas town. There Jenni and Katie find they are both attracted to Travis, leader of the survivors; and the refugees must slaughter people they know, who have returned in zombie form.

My Review:
When I initially won this book from the Bookish Brunette during last year's Zombie Craze, I was a little skeptical. I still had a bit of a prejudice against indie authors, and knowing that Rhiannon was originally a self-published author for ALL of her books, I dreaded starting it. I put it off so long, that the next book in the series was released, and I STILL didn't read it. Amazing reviews started cropping up in the blogosphere and on Goodreads but I was still skeptical. Man...I was totally and completely DEAD wrong....pun intended.  lol...If I would have bothered cracking the book to the very first page, I would have found probably the most haunting, terrifying, yet almost insignificant scene written in all of zombie literature. The book starts off with one simple image. Tiny baby hands scrabbling under the crack of a door. A woman standing on her front porch in her bath-robe, watching her zombie baby try helplessly to get under the door and eat her, breaking his little baby fingers in the attempt. *shudders in actual freaked out horror* Rhiannon paints a picture so vivid and detailed that you have nightmares about it. I felt like I had become numb to the majority of the "eeek" factor of zombies. Nope...Rhiannon pulled the fear back from wherever it was hiding and made me terrified of zombies and the horror they represent all over again.

Not many of the "shoot-em-up" zombie movies and books focus on women so I was thrilled to see this new direction that Rhiannon was taking. Even though I am used to zombie books, I was expecting the new girl main characters to make it less violent and gruesome. Wrong. This is not a lovey-dovey, OMG, kind of chick lit book. This is gritty, post-apocalyptic drama at it's very best. From that haunting image on page one to the very last death in the final chapter, the book is an amazing ride of action, violence, horror, and even a smidgen of romance here and there.

As for the characters... Katie: Is. Totally. Effing. Awesome. She is this amazingly strong lawyer chick who was in the right place at the right time during the initial outbreak. She is the strength of the two women, and seems to have her head on her shoulders a little more than Jenni. Granted, she only had to see her wife eating the mailman, where Jenni had to literally run from her husband and watch as her two youngest kids were eaten and turned so there's a bit of an understandable craziness there. Katie seems to be in control for the most part, but she still has her girl moments. She breaks down and cries, and Jenni is then there for her to be a shoulder to cry on and you can just see the bond between the two women being cemented into place.

For me, there was only one flaw with Katie, and that was that she didn't stay a lesbian for long. I thought Rhiannon was revolutionizing not only the zombie genre (which she did amazingly well) but redefining boundaries for LGBT characters. Typically if there is a gay character in a book they follow one of two patterns. Either the book is an angsty, heart-felt yet depressing rendition of how hard life is for the gay community, or the gay person is a walking cliche of sequins and glitter (or sneakers and boy-shorts if it's a lesbian). I was so excited to have a lesbian main character that actually read as strongly as a heterosexual MC. Katie defies every stereotype both for females in general and lesbians. She breaks out of the label of what she is supposed to be and simply becomes a person who we can identify with and grow to love. Then Katie meets Travis and falls madly in love...*exasperated sigh* Not only does that kind of throw all the character development that we've been going on thus-far into the wind, but it is a major setback for LGBT characters. Katie's switch in preferences pushes the "just hasn't met the right man yet" idea, even if it is unintentional on Rhiannon's part.  Whether the decision to make Katie into a man-lover was to increase the comfort level for more conservative readers, or simply because Rhiannon didn't know how to write a good lezzie-love-fest, I personally felt let down in the switch in Katie's character.
In regards to Rhiannon's comments below, I have thought a bit harder about my feelings towards Katie and thought that I should give an updated stance on the matter..
The fact that Katie is bisexual isn't what upsets me. I love her romance with Travis, and I don't even really believe that she was cured by the magic penis. However, the only reason I believe in her still is that I've read Fighting to Survive, and it is in THAT book where we get a deeper insight into Katie's sexuality and personal life experiences. What upset me was that Katie is initially presented as a lesbian. We go the first three quarters of The First Days believing that her lesbianism is a fact. Katie even says to Jason (Jenni's son) that she is a lesbian. It is only LATER we find out that she is bisexual. I was SO amazed with how Rhiannon makes a character who is was a lesbian, but doesn't make her central personality focused solely on BEING a lesbian. (P.S. I'm hoping this commentary makes sense as I am struggling to put into words some of what I felt/thought at the time) Katie goes on to completely defy stereotypes about lesbians. She isn't a lipstick lesbian. She isn't butch. I loved her because we were able to see her for what she is...just a person...I was 
SO in love with how she wasn't defined by her sexual orientation and I was blown away with how much character development she showed. Which made the fact that she was actually bisexual kind of a blow to the head. Even though it wasn't intended that way, I saw it as coping out. Not sticking to the lesbianic guns. It was like...sure...Katie defies the stereotypes of being a lesbian...because she isn't one.  

I've read book 2 and in that instance, knowing that Katie is bisexual is a further character study. Believe me,  I actually REALLY love how in depth Rhiannon goes into the psychology of being she states below, a lot of people who are bisexual say that she got it right...I TOTALLY see that. In book two it's like a complete info-guide into being Bi...of course much more bloody and interesting than an actual info guide though :) I loved book two even more in regards to Katie's personality because I KNEW she was bisexual from the get-go. I will leave more praise and analysis of her for my review of that book, but let's just say it was all in the KNOWING that she was bi all along , that led me to grow warm fuzzies for her. 

SO to clarify. It was the fact that we(the readers) didn't KNOW that Katie was bisexual that upset me...not the fact that she was in fact bisexual instead of a lesbian. I don't think she was cured by the magic penis, but it does give that impression, were you to only read book one. Hopefully that clears a little of my thoughts up! 
Jenni's personality confused me a little bit. At first I was put off by her naive and almost infuriatingly placating nature. She seemed to be like a child in a woman's body as she depends on Katie to save her from the zombies and take care of her during every waking moment. She's seems to be in shock from the events of the story, and toddles around like she's a baby and doesn't know what to do without her mom. I found that kind of odd because she had three kids and a husband to take care of and I feel like she would have learned how to take care of herself by now...then on the flip side of things, Jenni is also barking mad. She goes from this docile little woman to a kick-ass knife wielding gun man. She begins to break out from the house-wife persona that she has adapted to and starts becoming what seems to be a real woman. But a crazy, reckless, devil-may-care, woman. Needless to say, Jenni was a puzzle. I couldn't decide if I liked her or hated her until the very end when my feelings solidified into a massive love of both Jenni and Katie. I love them separately, and I definitely love them as a sister-couple. It's not romantic...but they are more than friends...they are bonded by blood, death, and the end of who they's a powerful thing and I absolutely adored the character development between them both!
Hands down, The First Days gets a 5 Key rating. It gave me chills, made me cry, and even managed to make me sleep with the lights on for days. The characters were simply wonderful. Every insignificant character has a back story and a personality all of their own that functions outside of the main character's purpose. The main characters themselves are so well-drawn that you practically see them live and in color in your living room. The First Days has all the imagery of the Walking Dead or a George Romero film, but also adds in the character development of any of our favorite TV dramas. Rhiannon takes the zombie genre to places its never seen before while still packing all the violence, gore, and dead shamblers that keep people coming back to the genre over and over again. I absolutely adored this book. It's one of those you have to immediately run out to the store and buy the rest of the series when you're finished. Definitely give The First Days a shot because if you like zombie books, this one will probably become your favorite.


  1. Holy crap! I was on the edge of my seat just reading your review! I need to get my hands on this one for the 48HBM coming up. Thanks for the heads up and the great review!

  2. Andra,

    Thank you for this wonderful review, but you're misreading Katie and my intentions with her character. Katie is never a lesbian in the story. Katie is bisexual from the very beginning of the book. She never changes her personal preferences. She states quite clearly she was always bisexual, but happened to find the perfect partner in Lydia. She tells Jason she's a lesbian at one point to get him to pee in front of her while she stands guard. Later, she explains why she did this and goes on to explain she has always dated both men and women.

    In Katie's own words:

    “But the truth is, I’m bisexual. Always have been. I dated guys and girls all through high school and in college. It just happened that the person—” Katie’s voice caught in her throat and she couldn’t talk for a moment. “—I fell in love with and wanted to spend my life with was a woman. It was her: Lydia.” Katie in THE FIRST DAYS

    It was a very big challenge to write a bisexual character because there is so much misinformation in both the straight and LGBT community about them. The rampant belief that a bisexual hasn't just made up their mind yet is very wrong, but a common misconception.

    From my blog: Katie is not a Lesbian

    "Katie is not a lesbian who is de-gayed by a magic penis."

    I want to make this clear because I don't want anyone to think I took a lesbian character and altered her to make straight people comfortable. I am a huge supporter of the LGBT community. But part of the LGBT community is the bisexual people represented by the B in LGBT. Katie represents those people.

    Two examples of famous bisexual people are Anna Panquin from True Blood who is married and pregnant with her co-star Stephan Moyer and Kristanna Loken who is involved with a woman (but was previously married to a man). Both women self-identify as bisexual and have been adamant that both their relationships haven't altered that. Anna isn't suddenly straight and Kristanna isn't suddenly a lesbian.

    I would like to clear this up because Katie is constantly referred to as a lesbian despite her self-identificaiton as bisexual. This is something that happens in real life to bisexuals, so I sensitive to the issue.

    I am very happy that lots of bisexual readers told me I got it absolutely right.

    Thank you again for your review. I sincerely appreciated it, but I felt the need to stand up for Katie and her representation of the B in LGBT.

    Rhiannon Frater

  3. P.S.

    "Whether the decision to make Katie into a man-lover was to increase the comfort level for more conservative readers, or simply because Rhiannon didn't know how to write a good lezzie-love-fest, I personally felt let down in the switch in Katie's character."

    No, I would never back down from my LGBT characters because of people criticizing them. Ken, my gay male character who enters the story in FIGHTING TO SURVIVE, and my lesbian couple in SIEGE are vital parts of the story and I would never remove them. Ever.

    I am a staunch believer in Marriage Equality and will never back down in support of my LGBT brothers and sisters.

    1. I commend you for the lengths you've gone to create such a dynamic character in Katie. I cannot WAIT to see the lesbian couple in Siege and I adore Ken. The LGBT community really have an advocate in you, and a strong one at that...I hope you can see where I'm coming from in the update, as I truly loved Katie's character and I already have an intensely written continuing analysis of it in the book 2 review coming up.

      Though I'm going to let the initial quote stand in the review, I definitely don't believe that you cut out the lesbianism for your conservative reviewers. Still...only judging by book one, and not the rest of the series, I will let my initial upset at the "bisexual reveal" remain. Thank you SO much for clarifying and commenting. I LOVE discussions of this nature and am THRILLED that you stopped by!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. (fixed for a typo)

      There was no way to introduce Katie's bisexuality other than to have there be some confusion that she would have to clarify. By having Jason and her have that talk, it was my way of revealing Katie's sexuality in a way that allowed her to have a voice. I understand your feelings on the matter and thank you for the clarification. But I am adamant that people understand that Katie is NOT a lesbian turned straight. She was always bisexual, I just had to find a way to reveal it to the reader in a way that made sense. If she had been driving the truck on her escape from the city and thinking about her sexual identity that would have just been weird. Thus, the awkward scene with Jason.

      I am a strong advocate of the LGBT community. I will always have LGBT characters in my books.

      I have two very awesome lesbians in the sequel to PRETTY WHEN SHE DIES that I think you will enjoy. If they survive PRETTY WHEN SHE KILLS and PRETTY WHEN SHE DESTROYS (which I'm not sure about yet...the whole cast is in jeopardy), I may spin them off into their own series.


    4. P.S. Also, bisexual women in same sex relationships are usually assumed to be lesbians also. I understand why Katie is seen as a lesbian right off the bat. The challenge was to clarify her sexuality.

      I just saw some articles about out bisexual Jillian Michaels and her partner adopting a little girl and also having a newborn son together just this week. Almost immediately in the comments people were saying that Jillian is out as a lesbian. She's not. She's out as a bisexual woman, but because she's with a lesbian, she's being labeled that way, too. I get that.

      That was the real challenge of writing Katie. People were going to assume a lot.

  4. Yay so happy you loved this, too Andra! Rhiannon is the shizz!! And yeah Katie was with men before Lydia. I didn't see her as being changed for conservative reasons, especially that there would not have been any lezzie love fest anyways as Jenni isn't gay. I'm glad you ended up loving Jenni she's awesomesauce and my favorite! (Calhoun too!). I can't wait to see what you think of the rest. You'll need a whole case of tissues for Siege!

  5. I wrote this really awesome comment, went to post it and the internet goes out erasing it. Oh well, great review! Can't wait to see how you feel about the rest (which is totally awesome as well).

  6. I don't feel Katie falling for Travis was a cop out to cave to conservative readers at all... It's made very clear that Katie like men and women, and her inner turmoil about her feelings for Travis and grieving for her wife are heart breaking...

    If Rhiannon Frater were trying to placate the conservatives, then there wouldn't have been any lesbianism at all. The first chapter CERTAINLY wouldn't have ever been written...

    There's a VERY "real" lesbian relationship in Siege... Perhaps Bette has a "magic vagina"?? *hehe* And Ken is certainly very gay...

    Moving on...

    "She's seems to be in shock from the events of the story, and toddles around like she's a baby and doesn't know what to do without her mom. I found that kind of odd because she had three kids and a husband to take care of and I feel like she would have learned how to take care of herself by now..."

    You forgot the part where Jenni was beaten and berated for ANY little thing by that "husband" she was supposed to "take care of". Yes, Jenni was highly dependent on Katie because she'd never been ALLOWED to be independent.

    Regardless, I'm thrilled that you loved The First Days!

    1. Love your face, Ashley. I always love how you defend Jenni. :)

      And I am glad we can have this discussion. It is an important one. I think the disappointment in Katie being bisexual shows that there is a severe lack of Lesbian and Bisexual heroines in genre. I hope to contribute to fixing this in future novels.

    2. SO true...I touched on that a bit in the beginning of the review. There are SO many cliched and stereotypically gay characters. You almost never get the chance to see a truly deep, insightful, 3-D gay character. You bring a TON of greatness to you LGBT characters and I adore it! Can't wait to read Pretty When She Kills!

  7. AH! I am so excited to finally read this book. I have only read Rhiannon's Pretty When She Dies, but I have her zombie trilogy in my Amazon cart just waiting to be bought.

    Great review!

  8. This looks sooooo intriguing...nice review! I wanna get my hands on this book.

    ~Shane @Itchingforbooks
    New follower

  9. I just spent the last 5-10 minutes reading this post and the comments and am TOTALLY excited that they are using an LGBT person. A lot of my friends (and I do mean a lot) are gay or lesbian or bisexual, with 1 transgender and I always feel like there arent enough books that portray that. Like you said, it's always a steryotypical personification. My bestest lesbian friend, isnt quite a lipstick lesbian, but also isnt a "manly" lesbian. She loves her some women, but most dont even know she's gay until she tells you (or until you see her hitting on a female). She's just a person and I love that this book doesnt put it into just one classification. Great review. I may read it just because.

  10. This book sounds really great. I will probably order it in a couple of days.