With all the creative zombie kills, interesting weapons, and brainstorming survival situations, we can often forget how horrific the end of the world is. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of room for “fun” survival stories, but once in a while you need something a bit more grounded, and that’s where Comes the Dark delivers.
Comes the Dark starts on a pretty dire note: the protagonist, Jeff, arriving home to find his family dead. Right out of the gate, you know this isn’t going to be a Zombieland-style breezy adventure. The majority of the struggle in the book is psychological. How do the survivors deal with the dirty business of survival? How do they overcome the guilt of living when everyone they loved is dead?
Most of these struggles work very well in the novel, but there was one that rang false to me. At the beginning of Comes the Dark, Jeff leaves all his memories of his old life behind, including his wedding ring and his family photo. I liked what the book was trying to do here: Jeff was starting over, knowing that the memories of his old life could drag him down. Having a wife and kids myself, I simply cannot imagine leaving behind any reminders of them, even if it gave me a better chance to survive. This little moment got me out of synch with the character, but the rest of the story worked well enough to balance things out by the end of the book.
While a good deal of Comes the Dark is psychological, there is still plenty of zombie survival to keep the book moving along at a good pace. Jeff meets his neighbor Megan early in the book, and the two work together to find a way to escape their barricaded neighborhood. Instead of getting through by killing every zombie in sight, they come up with a good plan and simply outsmart the walking dead. Soon after they meet a couple other survivors, and they help each other escape a horde of zombies at the local school/disaster shelter.
The characters here are fairly typical, but Megan really stands out. When she’s introduced she’s malnourished, sleep deprived, and scared of absolutely everything. By the end of the book she’s taking charge and not putting up with anyone’s drama. A couple of the reviews I read didn’t like how radically the character changed, but I really liked how much of an arc she had. I think that most of us would start just like her, but very few of us would end up as tough and capable in the end.
The book’s core group established, they head to toward the country where presumably things will be safer. And just like most other zombie stories, they soon discover that the living are far more dangerous than the dead. I won’t spoil the book’s big set piece, but I will say that I liked that the antagonists were driven out of fear and need rather than just being general raiders. It worked well, and let you sympathize with both sides of the conflict.
One thing to notes is that Comes the Dark ends with a cliffhanger that makes you want to immediately start the next book. If you don’t have the next book, there are a series of short stories at the end of the novel. I didn’t read them because I didn’t want to spoil anything going forward, so proceed with caution there.