Audiobook Review: Dead Tropics by Sue Edge

20 07 2012

Dead Tropics by Sue Edge

Read by Cynthia Barrett

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 9 Hrs

Genre: Zombie Outbreak

Quick Thoughts: While Dead Tropic has a pretty standard Zombie Outbreak plot, its unique setting and kick ass heroine gives it just enough edge to stand out in a crowded field.  Edge creates some incredibly cruel situations for her survivors, forcing her heroine to make decisions that will frustrate, thrill and shake the emotions of the readers. Sadly, the narrators inability to engage with the text blunted the visceral nature of some of the more graphic scenes of the novel.

Grade: B-

It’s been a while here since we talked about Zombies and my various rules that I make up seemingly haphazardly as I listen to or read zombie books. Recently I listened to Sue Edge’s Dead Tropics and it really tickled that little part of the brain where I think about the Zombie Apocalypse and the many things that will kill you when the dead start to walk. I think this was at first brought about by the fact that my first rule of surviving a Zombie Apocalypse is to stay as far away from hospitals as possible. Yet, in Dead Tropic our main character, Lori Nelson, is a nurse and the initial uprising begins in the hospital she works at. So, simply put, she’s kinda in a shitty situation to begin with. Yet, listening to Dead Tropic led me to realize that one of the biggest causes of death in a zombie outbreak will be the entirely implausible nature of the danger. The main character of Dead Tropic found herself in many situations where her telling others that there was a zombie uprising actually made it harder to get people to react. Honestly, if some crazy women came running into your place of business screaming that zombies are coming, would you believe her? Despite the fact that I am an aficionado of Zombie literature, I don’t believe a zombie uprising will ever actually occur, and this disbelief in the potentiality of the situation could kill me. There were times when Lori had to basically fudge the truth, for instance, instead of saying zombies, she would say infected, violent or bad people. Yet, I know I would react differently if I thought there were some bad violent people heading my way, instead of zombies. So, here’s my latest zombie rule, inspired by Dead Tropic. Families and loved ones should come up with what I call an "Oh, Shit" code word, a word that says, "Take what I am about to tell you absolutely seriously, even though it sounds crazy." So, if the zombies are coming, or aliens are invading, or sentient robots are stealing all our canned food, the use of the word can cut through all of the "Yeah, you’re just kidding, right" hesitation, getting your loved ones moving to your apocalyptic bunker, with their cans safely locked away from grabbing robotic hands.

Dead Tropics for the most part is a pretty, by-the-numbers zombie outbreak novel, yet with a few twists. First off, Edge sets her zombie outbreak in the tropical climates of Cairns, Australia. Now, I am no expert in Australia, but the mixture of Tropical swamps and other natural settings with the urban landscape of a medium sized city gave the book an interesting feel. In Edge’s Zombie apocalypse, traffic and retail shopping centers are just as much of an encumbrance to our heroes’ survival as are bogs and crocs. For someone who lives in the infinite squall of an American big city suburb, I found the tropical setting a fascinating wrinkle in this survival tale. Yet, the true aspect of Dead Tropic that pushes it past just another Zombie Outbreak novel is its protagonist. As I was listening to the novel, I was a bit surprised to realize that I couldn’t think of another zombie novel where the main character was a mother. It’s really strange. I can think of plenty of father’s in that role, yet, when I think of female leads in zombie novels, many are kick ass, capable, strong women, yet, none of them were mothers. Now, I found Lori Nelson at times to be frustratingly controlling and prone to take stupid risks, qualities that annoy me in characters of any sex, yet, she was also one of the more compelling, motivated and resourceful characters I have read in zombie fiction. In all honestly, some of the situations that Edge puts her character in is simply cruel. Some of the decisions required of her were so brutal I physically flinched from them, yet Lori always responded to the situation. Now, she didn’t always act in what I would consider the smartest of ways, but, what person would in this situation. Edge does a decent job creating an interesting group of survivors, particularly the women and younger characters. Some of the peripheral male characters where a bit underdeveloped and I found myself struggling to remember just exactly who they were at times. Edge’s actions scenes are pretty crisply drawn and well choreographed, yet they also caused a few pacing issues, where the transformation in tone was so abrupt that I found myself having to rewind a bit, fearing I missed something. My only other complaint about the novel was the romance. I personally found it a bit forced, relying too much on Lori’s inner dialogue, yet, let’s face it, I tend to find most romantic subplots, particularly in zombie novels to be forced. I guess I’m just not much of a romantic, particularly when I am being chased by the cannibalistic walking dead. So, while Dead Tropic has a pretty standard Zombie Outbreak plot, its unique setting and kick ass heroine gives it just enough edge to stand out in a crowded field.  Edge creates some incredibly cruel situations for her survivors, forcing her heroine to make decisions that will frustrate, thrill and shake the emotions of the readers.

I had high hopes for Cynthia Barrett. I know, these are words that critics often use when before bashing someone’s work, but here, it’s actually true. As I started the book, I loved the tone of her voice. I’m a bit tired of the young, perky Soprano voices dominating among female narrators. Barrett has a husky, exotic tone that is both beautiful and unique. Yet, tone, no matter how rich, isn’t enough. I never felt Barrett engaging with the text, and it lead to me not engaging with it at times as well. Barrett’s reading isn’t exactly monotone, but it lacks emotional affect on any significant level. Dead Tropic can, at times, be brutally graphic, but her straight reading took a lot of the edge off the visceral nature of the situation. Barrett read scenes where Lori was forced to shove a knife through the eye socket of a zombie child, like she was explaining how to properly thread a crocheting needle. Now, you could argue that anyone would have an almost shocked coldness to them during a zombie outbreak, but her reading just didn’t ring true to the character for me. To me, this was more of a straight reading than a performance, and I felt that that choice did an overall disservice to the narrative.  While the audiobook was listenable, if you have a choice, I would recommend the print version over the audio.

This review is part of my weekly, Welcome to the Apocalypse series.