K.R. Griffiths isn’t blazing any new ground in Panic, the first of his six-volume Wildfire Chronicles series. We’ve seen the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse before in Dawn of the Dead, The Walking Dead, and Fear The Walking Dead, and all of the familiar horror tropes are employed in Panic (though the Infected of Panic resemble the regular-folks-turned-crazed-killers of Stephen King’s Cell, or Richard Laymon’s One Rainy Night rather than Romero or Kirkman’s shambling ghouls.)
While Griffiths’s tale doesn’t bristle with originality, it is well told, and once he establishes the heroes —a cop, a young girl, and her Of Mice And Men-ish, special needs brother — and the villains —a mad scientist/survivalist (nice trope combo, K.R.!), a sister secret government agency, and an exponentially-growing hoard of killer cannibals — the story chugs along at a good pace. Panic is a page-turner, and Griffiths plots at an all-out sprint as the novel reached its half-closure/half-cliffhanger ending.
Sure there are a couple of clunky mid-chapter POV changes, and a few things don’t entirely add up. One of the first people infected is a priest who beheads his “wife.” Are priests allowed to marry in rural SouthWales? That’s pretty progressive. And why do the Infected tear out their eyes (other than some latent Oedipal complex)? Griffiths creates modern “fast zombies” but then lessens their threat by having the creatures blind themselves. Sure, the Panic people are pretty spry compared to a Romero zombie, but they can’t see for shit — and it’s their own damn fault!
It’s an odd choice in an otherwise by-the-numbers beginning-of-the-end tale. Maybe Griffiths will address it in the other books in the Wildfire Chronicles series. (Zombies with bionic eyes!) Whatever Griffiths has in mind you can be assured it will be fun, fast-paced, and wholly familiar.
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