BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A pair of drug addicts open their window to a zombie apocalypse, run for their lives and fight for what they’ll love more: sober life or death.
PROS: Front-to-back engaging; phenomenal ending; emotionally powerful characters; scary zombies; survivalist setting.
CONS: The sexual descriptions, while consistent with the gory details throughout, were more than this reader preferred.
BOTTOM LINE: Best read of the year. Best zombie book, ever. Masterful illustration about how painful and overwhelming addiction can be – over love, over family, and over being a good human being, even in the face of losing one’s life to a zombie horde.
The cover image of Peter Stenson’s Fiend and the combination of meth addicts in a zombie apocalypse created hesitancy in whether this book would be right for me, making me wonder if I was hardcore enough. I guess I am, because I absolutely loved this book. Major credit goes to Peter Stenson, Colorado State University’s MFA program, and the editorial team at Crown, because this story, that did not seem like a good fit, was too seamlessly well-written to let me out until the end, and my appreciation has only grown since.
Fiend has everything: the main character is heart-breakingly flawed, addicted to a drug that cost him the love of his life and what he sees as the approval of his parents (and that’s only where he starts the novel, it gets much worse from there); a best friend that is equally endearing, one of the better buddy flick type stories; an adventure through zombie territory where the twist on survival — including finding more meth — made Fiend feel fresh in a stale genre; truly scary zombies (an impressive feat after reading and seeing so many); and a love story that packs a punch well after the pages end.
While I began this book curious to know whether I’d enjoy reading about addicts, I soon realized that I could relate to the feeling of letting people down, of wondering what my ceiling of achievement could be after life mistakes and missed opportunities, and of wanting the woman I love to love me back and to be good enough for her. Within this inner battle of the main character, there is fast-paced, high-conflict action trying to find shelter and necessities amidst a world overrun by Chucks — zombies who chuckle when they get excited about fresh meat, a horror element that the author plays off to perfect terror. The ending will surprise and was the perfect resolution to this story.
As mentioned above, the only real point of disinterest was the level of detail regarding sex. It was real, though, and consistent to the detail of the addicts picking scabs and the visceral description of getting high. This book makes you feel through the characters highs and lows, sexually, fearfully, while intoxicated, in the depths of depression and self-loathing, when they felt like they could take on the world and be true heroes, and the rush of excitement to see what would happen next and if they’d survive.
I want every book I read to enthrall me as consistently and emotionally as Fiend did.