Madeleine Roux

ISBN: 978-0-7553-7916-3

Publisher: Headline

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

Sadie Walker is Stranded is Madeleine Roux’s second novel. It centres on Sadie, who has been living in Seattle since the zombie outbreak which has devastated America (and possibly other countries, but our characters are generally too insular to spare that a thought). Early in the outbreak some quick thinkers built a wall which turned Seattle into a citadel and kept the zombies out.

It’s not the most comfortable place to live. Food is in short supply, luxuries are almost non-existent, and tension is high. No-one seems to thinking about much except getting through the next day. The sole exception is the “Rabbits”, a repopulationist group which preaches that people should have as many babies as possible as quickly as possible. This isn’t a popular notion when starvation is a breath away. Who needs more dependent people this instant? Let’s wait a few years. (Although it’s never clear what anyone else expects to change, to make having children more viable.)

As the novel opens, the tension explodes and the wall surrounding Seattle is breached. Within minutes, it seems, the city is overrun with zombies. Sadie is already reeling from the brutal kidnapping of the nephew she inherited with her sister’s death. Now she has only breaths to find her nephew, rescue him, and then somehow escape Seattle in preference to all the other desperate people on a similar mission.

The novel thus started a little shakily; I had some trouble crediting some of the early scenes, such as Sadie’s oh-so-convenient glimpse of her nephew which enabled her to rescue him. The critical plot point of the Rabbits breaking down the wall (and letting the zombies into Seattle) just didn’t ring true either. If your creed is to have as many babies as possible to repopulate the world, why – in effect – commit mass suicide? Yeah, I know religious cranks often don’t make sense, but this was a huge stretch.

Also importantly, I struggled to find any conviction in her relationship with her boyfriend Carl. She did not react as though he was a trusted, loved partner; nor did she behave as though he was an untrustworthy, casual liaison. It seemed he was a convenience in those early pages to help a couple of things happen, but neither he or his relationship with Sadie rang true.

Luckily, Roux finds her feet a short way into the novel, and this turns into an entertaining and largely convincing story of surviving the zombie apocalypse. Sadie finds herself with a mixed bag of survivors, and they must combine their ill assorted “talents” to try to survive, and perhaps even thrive. More attention could have been paid to details. For example, early on Sadie says that her sister died on a bus; later she suggests it was a train. At one stage Sadie finishes the book The Big Sleep, but later in the novel she is “well into” it, as though she has not read it previously. These sorts of mistakes are not enormous, but they did jerk me out of the story and distract me. They interfered with this reader’s ability to suspend belief and lose themselves in the plot.

This is a kind of sequel to Roux’s first novel, Allison Hewitt is Trapped. You don’t have to have read the first novel to be able to follow and enjoy this one. However, if you haven’t, then some references are going to leave you staring blankly at the page. They won’t make sense and they’re not explained. There are relatively few of these moments, though. A slightly bigger issue is that the background isn’t very well explained either; you’ll have to pick that up as you go along. Most readers should be able to do that without too much trouble, but it may leave a sense of shallowness with some readers.

Roux has wisely chosen to take a different approach with this novel, while setting it in the same world and within a year or two of the first. The first was a scramble for survival in the first days of the zombie outbreak and focused on people who had no real clue what they were dealing with. This one is set in a different location, and although still a tale of survival, focuses on people who have a much better idea of what they’re dealing with, and different motivations which go a little beyond sheer survival. There are more similarities than differences between the novels, but Roux has succeeded in giving each an individual flavour so that you don’t feel you’re reading the same story again.

In addition, this novel is told entirely through Sadie’s eyes, giving a stronger and more consistent narrative voice. Although the approach of telling part of the earlier novel through blog posts was interesting, it did sometimes result in Allison’s “voice” sounding inconsistent.

Although generally an engaging and interesting heroine, with both her good points and her flaws, Sadie seems a rather narrow character at times. Although her world has been relatively stable for some time, as the zombies have been kept out of Seattle for an extended period, she doesn’t appear to have gained any benefit from this. The question of what caused the outbreak doesn’t appear to have ever crossed her mind; nor does she ever seem to think about whether there might be a cure or a long term solution. Granted, Allison in the first novel didn’t think about this either; but she was depicted in the midst of a constant desperate scramble for survival. It was credible that she didn’t look much beyond her nose. It’s harder to believe that these issues might not have at least crossed the mind of someone who’s had months of relative calm and safety.

As noted earlier, I also found Sadie’s relationship with Carl unconvincing. However, this was an exception; on the whole a strength of the novel was the relationships between people. They were vivid and believable, strengthened by the good character building, and in many cases provided a credible explanation of people’s behaviour.

On balance, Sadie Walker is Stranded is a good novel. Despite its flaws, it’s an interesting novel that will engage readers with convincing characters and a fairly action packed plot. Some details and plotting may not fully satisfy, but if you want an entertaining and well written novel that hovers between fantasy and horror, this should please you.