Review: FEEDBACK by Mira Grant (Newsflesh #4)

22359662It might sound strange when I say I’m very happy to be back in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series, since it depicts a terrifying post-apocalyptic world following a zombie plague, but this author’s powerful, intense narrative always manages to draw me in, enthrall me and make me care and worry for her characters, so that every new installment in this saga is a highly anticipated and very welcome occasion.

A little background: some twenty years before the events at the core of this story, the dead started to rise. There is a well-thought out and scientifically-oriented reason for this: two independent studies were underway to find a cure for cancer (using a mutated strain of the Marburg virus) and the common cold. When both organisms were accidentally released, they combined into the Kellis-Amberlee virus, able to amplify its victims, i.e. transforming them into zombies, and since everyone on the planet was infected, even death by natural causes could bring amplification. Once the worst of the Rising is over, humanity finds itself in the grip of terror, forced to undergo blood tests before entering any enclosed space and to go through decontamination every time they are exposed to a live form of the virus, like blood or other bodily fluids.    The failure of the traditional media in reporting the facts of the Rising results in the emergence of bloggers as the most trusted form of information, and bloggers are indeed the protagonists of the Newsflesh series.

While the first trilogy (Feed, Deadline and Blackout) focuses on the Masons, a brother-sister team of bloggers, Feedback moves its sights toward a different team, although the story parallels –  both in content and in time-frame – the events of the first book in the series, with the bloggers following the last stages of the presidential campaign alongside a candidate’s entourage.   This might sound like the rehashing of an old plot, but it’s not, not by a long shot – and I must warn you that while this book can be read on its own, it contains spoilers for the first volume in the original trilogy.  Feedback complements the first three novels, and adds new insights and information, not unlike what happens when you observe a scene from different angles: since this is above all a story, or series of stories, about news people and the search for information and truth, no perspective can be deemed as superfluous or repetitive.

Aislinn “Ash” North is an Irwin, which in the post-Rising blogging community means the kind of journalist who goes out in the wild, facing the dangers of the undead to give her audience a sense of what the world outside is about.  She’s married to Ben Ross, the Newsie, the team’s writer of more serious, more thoughtful content: it was a marriage of convenience, since it helped Aislinn escape her native Ireland’s oppressive society, but it’s still based on a strong sense of companionship and respect, while their opposing approaches to news content keep the blog fresh and interesting. The other members of the group are Audrey Wen, the Fictional, who writes serialized stories, and Matt Newson, the tech-person who also publishes makeup tutorials.  They are a diverse and well-integrated group and while not at the top of the blogging pyramid like the Masons, they enjoy a good audience and hope to expand: this opportunity comes when they are enrolled by Democratic candidate, governor Susan Killburn, to report on her run toward the White House.  It will soon become clear that there are darker undercurrents in this presidential campaign and the team will discover, to their horror and loss, that the puppet masters are very powerful and will stop at nothing to bring their plans to completion.

What differentiates Feedback from its predecessors is the outward-directed focus on the post-Rising world: readers of the original trilogy will be already aware of the changes in life style, the need for constant blood tests, the bleach showers to remove any trace of contaminants, and so on. These elements are present here as well, but they take second place to a deeper investigation of the changes the Rising brought to society and people’s mind-sets.  Fear is the most powerful drive of the times, and with reason, since the threat of amplification always lurks around the corner, changing the way people must deal with everyday errands, the same ones we face without thinking about it, like entering an underground parking, or a supermarket, or boarding a flight.  So there are those who capitalize on that, as Ash notes at some point, with her irrepressible cheeky wit:

Fear wasn’t just an American pastime: it was a global addiction, and industries of every size existed to satiate it. Some of them were obvious, like the blood tests shoved in front of our faces at every possible turn […]

It’s a theme that was present in the previous books but takes center stage here, because that fear is shown as a useful tool – a lesson we need to be reminded of in these times when fear is used far too often in the same way. The fictional future and our present are therefore linked by this element that is also a commentary on the direction our society seems to be headed toward. As usual, Grant never preaches to her audience, but simply lets her characters’ dialogue connect the story to present-day issues, like a snippet of conversation about one of the candidates, a man who prefers to live in a secluded enclave, away from any contact with the rest of the world:

“The pre-Rising generation thinks of him as a visionary.”

“Everyone else thinks of him as a throwback,” said Rick. “He’s too reactionary, he’s too insular, he wants to build a wall across the Canadian and Mexican border. A wall. As if the damn fences in Texas and Arizona didn’t get people killed during the Rising.”

Considering that Feedback was published at the beginning of October 2016, the above quote takes a very special meaning, indeed.

Apart from these considerations, what I most enjoyed in Feedback are the characters: the group of protagonists here feels more approachable than the Masons were in the original trilogy, they appear more… human, for want of a better word.  The Newsflesh bloggers are all consummate professionals doing their jobs, granted, but Aislinn & Co. feel more in touch with the world, more interested in people than in the exploration of facts and the search for truth. It’s for this reason, I imagine, that Grant showed us more of the outside world in this novel: besides the cities and the convention centers, that featured in the first three books as well, we see some off-the-map communities on both sides of the spectrum, from the survivalists who want to keep away from the dangers of civilization, to mad Clive’s little domain ruled with intimidation and terror. We also see more interaction between blogger teams, and get a perception of what their community is like, how they view each other, be it with professional respect or envy and antagonism.  If I liked the Masons as protagonists, and cared for what happened to them, I grew deeply fond of Ash, Ben, Audrey and Mat – they felt more substantial, more flesh-and blood and less legend, if I’m making any sense. I found the reason for such a difference in a consideration by Aislinn herself:

[…] We’d never considered that letting ourselves be killed might be the answer. It wasn’t worth it. Maybe the Masons would think it was, but the Masons were zealots. They’d been born to the news and if they died making it, they wouldn’t think their lives had been wasted. I didn’t want that. I wanted to live  […]  and not become a footnote for the sake of a story than had never really been mine and had never been meant to be.

People, and what makes them tick, especially in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, are the reason for the continued success of this series, one that draws its horror from the darkness of the human mind rather than from the hordes of flesh-eating undead, that are just background “decoration” here, rather than the main props. Witnessing the cold-blooded exploitation, from those in power, of citizens’ frantic need for security is far more chilling than seeing senseless murders gleefully perpetrated with a barbed-wire-clad bat (yes, TWD, I’m looking right at you!) and it’s far more effective than any given quantity of blood and gore.

As long as Mira Grant (the alter ego for UF writer Seanan McGuire) will keep delivering these meaningful stories of the post-Rising world, I will be looking forward to learning more.

My Rating:


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Posted on February 24, 2017, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed this series! It’s so awesome to find one that consistently meets your expectations. How interesting that the zombies fall behind the horror perpetrated by sentient humanity; and the blogging-news element is intriguing. I have yet to pick up a Grant/McGuire after not loving Rosemary & Rue–I’m still kind of waiting for the right project, I think. Someday! But your reviews are so thorough and engaging, it’s like I got to read and enjoy the “fast-track” version, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, thank you! I’m happy to have piqued your interest and I hope your “first contact” with this series will work better than what happened with the Toby Daye series – although for this one I would recommend some perseverance, that will be repaid in spades once you reach book 3 🙂
      As for the Newsflesh series it’s the best you can find concerning the zombie apocalypse trope – IMHO, of course…

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      • Wow, high praise! I have heard mixed reviews, but you never really know until you check it out for yourself right? 😉 Thanks for the recommendation. Those covers…I just love ’em.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. So glad you enjoyed this. To e honest I never really got into it – kind of a mood thing I think. When I picked up the first book I was expecting an all out zombie book and in actual fact it was much more subtle. I should really go back and give it another go because I certainly didn’t dislike the first.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s certainly a different series from your run-of-the mill (or should I say run-of-the-blood&gore? LOL) zombie narrative: there is less fighting the hordes of the undead and more focus on what the world is like after the worst of the outbreak was over. For me it was a revelation, and its very difference from the genre norm was the reason I enjoyed it so much 🙂

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  3. Wow, I had no idea there was a fourth book, I thought the first trilogy was going to be it! I still have not read beyond book one at this point though. I guess Feed was okay, but the brother and sister in the story were so arrogant and unlikable, not to mention so preachy about their politics, I didn’t think I could stomach another go with these characters! But hmm, if the stars of Newsflesh are more “approachable” than the Masons, this might just work! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • They are indeed on the opposite side of the spectrum in respect of the Masons, and since you read book 1 of Newsflesh there will be no spoilers for you. As for Georgia and Shaun, they might appear arrogant and unlikable, but as the story progresses you get to understand where all that comes from and to see it in perspective. Hopefully this book will be more to your liking 🙂

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  4. Yes! You just reminded me that I have to get to this new novel! I read the first three and loved them so much. I will miss the Masons but I will be plum happy to be back in Grant’s world of zombies. I have to have this!
    Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
    Follow me on Bloglovin’

    Liked by 1 person

  5. If anyone can make flesh eating zombies appealing, it’s Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire! The fact that this series is still going strong at the fourth book has me convinced that I need to carry on with it despite how heartbreaking the end of the first book was — I’m still not over it! Haha. A character-focused apocalypse story is one that I want to read!

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  6. I have never read any zombie books but I have to say that this series intrigues me! I only discovered recently that Mira Grant was Seanan Mcguire and I don’t know how this woman manages to write so much, she has superpowers! :O

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