The Becoming is Jessica Meigs’ first novel. It opens with an apocalypse of the zombie kind. A virus is on the loose and the world is going to hell. This may sound familiar but whilst there are known elements here, there are nuances too that let you know you’re in for a different kind of ride.
There are zombie authors a-plenty out there at the moment but what makes Jessica Meigs’ novel stand out from amongst the crowd is her understanding of story; how to structure a narrative. The pacing of The Becoming is pitch-perfect. It almost has a beat, you’d swear you can feel the bass-line in your gut as relentless and frenetic action sequences are expertly interspersed with scenes where we get to know and understand the characters and the virus-ravaged world around them. The author knows exactly when to slow the beat, let us breathe, look around and take in what’s there before cranking the AC up once again and letting the infected run amok and tear everything down.
Chief amongst the characters of The Becoming is Cade who, for a fair amount of the narrative, is the only female protagonist but rather than making her seem token, this actually draws our focus to her and this is because The Becoming is undoubtedly her novel. It is as much about her growth as individual in trying circumstances as it is about brain-munchin’ fun. We are with her as the relationship with her closest friend, Ethan, is changed, even eroded, by the pressures of living in one decimated hovel after another following the viral outbreak. We are witness to the connection that gradually grows between her and Brandt, an ex-marine, in a way that is neither sentimental nor romantic enough to upset the strong narrative tone already established. As with pacing of story, the author knows about pacing of character development – showing us enough to intrigue and make us care rather than drowning us in melodramatic displays of emotion.
Mention also deserves to go to the author’s handling of the infected. There are shades here of 28 Days Later rabidity, there are echoes of Romero’s more traditional slothful creations and, crucially for a work of prose, there seems to me to be more than a hint of Matheson in here too. There’s something going on with these z-heads, there’s a reason why this is called The Becoming that makes me eager to read the next book in the series and see what the author makes of that which is only suggested here.
The Becoming is a work of deft, cinematic horror. It is deserving of the attention of readers outside the sub-genre that spawned it and I am sure that the author is going to go on to do great things. Recommended.
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