To read an interview with the author and to read an excerpt from Devour, please see the May issue of Uncaged Book Reviews.
An infection is spreading. People are dying, but they don’t stay dead.
St. Louis is falling to pieces. In the midst of rioting, a dangerous new disease has sprung up pushing an already dire situation over the edge. Those who are infected suddenly become extremely aggressive, attacking and even eating those around them.
And Olivia Bennett is caught right in the middle of it.
When Liv comes face to face with the infected, her hectic life grinds to a halt as the city around her begins to devour itself. Forced to flee from her car with nothing but her eighteen-month-old daughter, Elli, Liv must trek forty miles on foot across the feral infested suburbs of St. Louis to a safe haven that may not even be safe.
Fight or die. What other hope does she have?
Uncaged Comprehensive Review:
Devour by R.L. Blalock is the first book in the Death & Decay series. Devour takes place during and immediately after the outbreak of a zombie virus, centering around a mother named Olivia Bennett who managed to escape an infested highway with her 18-month-old daughter, Elli. The first chapter opens on them reaching their destination, tailed by the ‘ferals’– their term for the zombies.
First off, in a technical sense, this book is excellent. If there were any grammar or spelling mishaps, I didn’t notice them. It was very professional. The verbiage was diverse and unrepetitive, the pacing was spot-on, and Blalock has a knack for atmosphere. Even after taking a break between reading sessions, it was very easy for me to be thrown right back into the moment whenever I picked Devour back up. It also made it very difficult to put the book down in the first place.
Now, one of the biggest pet peeves I have about horror settings is idiot characters. A lot of stories tend to have characters who have no common sense and/or allow themselves to get absorbed in pointless drama. Usually this results in them doing something blatantly stupid that puts their life and the lives of anybody with them at risk. Now, in small doses, this makes it more natural and realistic– most human beings disagree with each other at some point, and not everybody will choose logic over emotion, even if the latter is obviously a reckless idea.
However, in many cases, this is taken to an extreme for the sake of angst and conflict, with little reward. When characters are frequently killed in meaningless ways to incite emotion, it becomes increasingly difficult to get emotionally invested in a story. That’s why something like AMC’s The Walking Dead is simply not enjoyable to me anymore.
For that reason, I believe Devour deserves all the credit in the world. Blalock does an excellent job writing and developing even minor characters, and at no point is there a tragedy that happens just for the sake of shock value. Everything Liv experiences affects her as a character and teaches her how to survive more efficiently. Every death is meaningful. I believe that Blalock walks the fine line between senseless character death and a lack of genuine risk– at no point was I 100% sure that a character was going to survive, but I also could not assume they would die.
(Sidenote: as someone who is invested in the well-being and fate of animal characters, I am happy to report that the one dog who makes an appearance does not die, as far as the reader knows.)
Liv herself is probably one of the most believable and likeable characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. It is so easy to immerse yourself in her story and put yourself in her place. She’s resourceful and compassionate, her actions well-balanced between logic and emotion. Liv is fuelled by an intense desire to protect her daughter that both gives her a defined goal and makes her an incredibly sympathetic character. Pushed into an insurmountable challenge, Liv goes from a stay-at-home mom to a complete badass in a very organic way.
Despite the fact that Devour takes place over the span of about 5 days, at no point do I feel like the story was rushed. Everything Liv does is very deliberate and the plot itself holds steady. When necessary, the atmosphere is very tense and scenes are drawn-out, but never so much that they feel too slow. Part of this is how well-described each scenario is. Blalock manages a good level of detail, making sure the reader has enough without slowing down the entire book by over-describing. At no point is a combat scene too over-the-top, and I found them all to be very easy to visualize.
My only half-complaint is about the epilogue, where the book skips forward thirty-some days to let the reader know what happened after Liv made it to Slag Stead with Elli. I feel like the epilogue itself is a little rushed and could explain things more thoroughly, though I don’t mind skipping what happened between day 5 and day 37. Most of what was skipped probably would have involved the social politics of a small group of people, and I think getting too invested in that tends to detract from the story overall unless you want the zombie setting to take a back seat. That said, I don’t think that the epilogue detracts much from the rest of the story, and I did enjoy the way it wrapped things up for the first book. It gives the reader closure, and I think that combined with Darkest Days (the accompanying novella), there’s plenty of potential for the next books.
I am very curious to see how Blalock will continue Liv and Elli’s story, if she will continue Wyatt’s, and I look forward to the next book in the Death & Decay series. All-in-all, I highly recommend Devour and Darkest Days if you’re looking for a good, atmospheric read about a zombie apocalypse. Blalock writes an intelligent story and intelligent characters, lacking the cringeworthy drama that is pervasive in other zombie-related media. Reviewed by Kaitlin