One of the things I really like about the zombie genre is how versatile it is. Naturally, most zombie stories are going to start with horror at their base, although exceptions certainly exist. That said, writers build on the foundation of horror in all sorts of interesting ways. Over the years, I’d read zombie war stories, action yarns, sci-fi epics, mysteries, relationship dramas, fantasy stories, self-help guides, police procedurals, historical fictions… I could go on and on. The fact that zombies, as a monster, are so well established that they can fit into pretty much any genre, is both a strength and a weakness. I love the variety, but it also has a tendency to dilute their effect on a story.
It’s because of this double-edged nature that I really love seeing more traditional zombie stories, like Dead Frozen. Sure, it’s fun to imagine Vikings squaring off against zombies, or a detective piecing together clues of a zombie outbreak, but sometimes a traditional zombie survival tale is just the thing you’re looking for.
While Dead Frozen isn’t perfect, it does a lot right. So let’s start with the good stuff. First off, it’s set at an airport in Alaska, combining isolation with layers and layers of bureaucracy is a great way to add to the tension in a horror story. Not only do our characters have to deal with zombies, they have to do so in an environment that makes things more difficult at every turn.
The protagonist of the story, Gavin, is a TSA agent. I always like reading stories from the perspectives of characters that don’t have a lot of power or control over their situation. It makes them have to work harder for everything, and depend on their own wits to survive. In this case, being a TSA agent does grant Gavin some advantages, such as intimate knowledge of the layout of the airport, and access to areas closed off to the general public. These advantages make his survival more believable, without letting the character off the hook too easily.
Finally, the story itself, while maybe a little thin, is briskly told. We move from one major set piece to the next, introducing interesting characters and situations all the while. This helps keep everything fresh, which is a must have for a novella like Dead Frozen.
The book does stumble in a few points, however. The first is with the character of Gavin’s girlfriend. I don’t want to spoil the story by giving away too much, but I will say the character isn’t given a lot of agency, and ends up serving as more of a plot point than a character in her own right.
This dovetails with the other issue I had with the story, which is Gavin’s lack of emotional range. There is a development about three quarters of the way through the story that rang a little hollow to me. Again, I don’t want to say too much because of spoilers, but his reactions, both physical and emotional, seemed very slight in consideration to what was happening.
Even with these issues, Dead Frozen is a fun, quick zombie survival story with a great setting and brisk plot. I would have liked to have seen a little better character devlopment, but the focus here is clearly on plot, and that is done quite well.