(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
In a steel-and-lead-encased bunker 40 feet below the basement level of his house, Captain Lee Harden of the United States Army waits. On the surface, a plague ravages the planet, infecting over 90% of the populace. The bacterium burrows through the brain, destroying all signs of humanity and leaving behind little more than base, prehistoric instincts. The infected turn into hyper-aggressive predators, with an insatiable desire to kill and feed. Some day soon, Captain Harden will have to open the hatch to his bunker, and step out into this new wasteland, to complete his very simple mission: Subvenire Refectus.
To Rescue and Rebuild.
While The Remaining purports to be a different kind of zombie story, it’s really not all that different from a hundred other zombie stories. Only the premise is different: the US government actually prepared for biological warfare by building bunkers and paying specially trained soldiers as a way of having a contingency plan in case the entire military and government fell. These soldiers in the 48 states on the US mainland are supposed to single-handedly bring order back to a world gone to hell and begin rescuing people and rebuilding society. It’s really a lot to ask of just 48 people who have been locked in bunkers for two months with no idea what has been going on outside the four steel walls of said bunkers.
Other than that premise (which is somewhat refreshing considering most zombie stories have the government being completely incompetent with no Plan B whatsoever), this is pretty much your typical zombie story. People have been infected by a virus that turns them into crazed killers. They’re fast zombies and these ones use weapons like knives and shovels but that’s really all that makes them slightly different from a hundred other zombie stories out there. They travel in herds, have sensitive hearing that forces the survivors to skulk around using any quiet weapons they can get their hands on and getting bit means infection and transformation into a zombie. In the hands of a writer who didn’t set out to tell a typical zombie story, they could have been quite interesting.
However, my main issue with The Remaining is that it sticks to so many of the old zombie story tropes. The protagonist has an animal which becomes exposed to the virus defending him and so must kill him in the tragic climax. There are heartless looters and survivors who are doing what they can to help the remaining humans. That’s not unrealistic at all but rather there was no real creativity in the characterizations of most of the survivors Lee encounters. There’s Sam, the thirteen-year-old boy who traumatically watches his father die. There’s Jack, the cynical former military man who is thrown into Lee’s group somewhat against his will in the beginning but who becomes a valuable asset. And then there’s Angela and her daugher Abby, two helpless females the men in the group have to constantly protect. Really, it seems like Molles just threw stock characters from every other zombie story together and ran with it rather than adding his own flair.
And finally, as for the plot it seems like the invisible hand of the author was always at play. To make things harder for Lee, Sam must make a dumb mistake and be seen back at the bunker so some looters burn the house (and by extension, the entrance to the bunker) down. Then of course the only other useful member of the group, Jack, gets bit and must soldier on before dying in battle. Angela, Abby and Sam continue to be useless. Then, when it seems like Lee and the group have found safety with another group, they seem to get attacked on the last page of the book for a stereotypical cliffhanger.
With all that said, The Remaining never crosses the threshold into truly terrible territory. The pace is fairly fast and the pages do move quickly despite the rampant clichés. The writing isn’t great but it isn’t terrible so this book really does sit in the middle in mediocre territory. If you want a quick read and haven’t read as many zombie novels as I have, this might be a decent introduction to the genre. But if you’ve read a few zombie books, watched The Walking Dead on TV or basically any zombie movie, you’re better off skipping this one and reading something a little more unique. Mira Grant’s Feed would be a much better self-aware zombie novel to read.
I give this book 2/5 stars.