Author: Rhiannon Frater
Series: As the World Dies #1
Date Published: July 5, 2011
Format: Trade Paperback
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.
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 bisexual...as 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 were...it's a powerful thing and I absolutely adored the character development between them both!