Just so you know: this zombie book is more than a zombie book: it’s a full-on zombie-dystopian-love story. And that makes it totally and completely awesome.
The basic plot: Mary’s village is isolated in the forest. As far as they know, everyone was killed after the Return, and they’re the only people left alive. They’re surrounded by the Unconsecrated, who are a constant threat in the lives of the villagers. Mary’s mostly happy there, except for her unfulfilled dreams of seeing the ocean, brought on by her mother’s stories. The setup for the story is slowish; after Mary’s mother is infected, and later released into the forest, Mary spends many chapters restless in the service of the Sisterhood, the religious sect that evolved in this village. She also falls in love with a boy she’s not supposed to; he’s betrothed (and betrothal always leads to marriage) to her best friend. About halfway through the book, the story starts to pick up. And once the story gets going, though — there’s a breach in the village’s fence, and the Unconsecrated attack, but Mary and a few others get away — it really gets going. Ryan does intensity incredibly well, especially since the book is anything but gory. There are moments when the action is so tense and suspenseful that it’s impossible to put the book down: you have to know what’s going to happen next.
The other thing that Ryan does exceptionally well is desire: Mary’s palpable desire for answers to her unspoken questions, for a life that is more than what the Sisterhood doles out for them in the villages. That’s not her only desire; her love for her best friend’s betrothed literally leaps off the page in a way I haven’t seen since Twilight. (Which may or may not be a good thing, depending on what you think of Twilight.)
It is true that the story, while it is mostly self-contained, peters out at the end. But, it’s also the first of a trilogy, so that can be forgiven. Besides, how could you not want to read a zombie-dystopian-love story?
Rated: Mild, mostly because of intensity.