The First Days by Rhiannon Frater
Series: As the World Dies #1
Published by Tor on August 14th, 2008
Shelve It: Goodreads
Katie is driving to work one beautiful day when a dead man jumps into her car and tries to eat her. That same morning, Jenni opens a bedroom door to find her husband devouring their toddler son.
Fate puts Jenni and Katie—total strangers—together in a pickup, fleeing the suddenly zombie-filled streets of the Texas city in which they live. Before the sun has set, they have become more than just friends and allies—they are bonded as tightly as any two people who have been to war together.
During their cross-Texas odyssey to find and rescue Jenni’s oldest son, Jenni discovers the joy of watching a zombie’s head explode when she shoots its brains out. Katie learns that she’s a terrific tactician—and a pretty good shot.
A chance encounter puts them on the road to an isolated, fortified town, besieged by zombies, where fewer than one hundred people cling to the shreds of civilization.
It looks like the end of the world. But Katie and Jenni and many others will do whatever they have to to stay alive. Run, fight, pick each other up when they stumble, fall in love…anything is possible at the end of the world.
The First Days came highly recommended by so many bloggers that I thought I had a guaranteed five-star book on my hands! By the time I realized The First Days wasn’t going to get any better, I was far enough along in it that I decided to just finish the damn thing. While I found certain concepts intriguing, overall The First Days was a chaotic mess; the relationships felt forced and undeveloped, the characterization was disorganized and slightly baffling, and the writing was overly pedantic.
One of the biggest reasons I almost didn’t finish The First Days was because of the writing style. While I didn’t always mind that the most minute of details were given attention, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had been told what color/type of underwear Katie put on daily, what bothered me the most was how repetitive the dialogue was.
“I heard what happened with those kids. Glad you’re okay,” Katie said, touching Jenni’s damp hair.
“Juan took care of it. Kicked the shit out of her head.”
“He’s a good guy. Glad he had your back.” Katie hooked her thumbs into her jeans pockets and let out a long breath. “Glad this day is over.”
If the characters weren’t using the same words over and over, Frater was using the same words to describe the surroundings or events; I lost count how often the truck “roared” after Katie floored the gas pedal to help them escape a tricky situation, how often Jack had a “doggy grin,” or how often Katie “expertly” dodged something in her way.
With such weak writing, I was really hoping to connect with The First Days’ characters. I don’t have anything that I overly disliked about Katie, but I never truly connected with her in a way that had me worried for her well-being. As for Jenni, she was the most annoyingly pathetic and confusing character I’ve read about in a long time. Having just lost her two young children to the outbreak, I was convinced I would empathize with her while she grieved. Instead, I found myself getting whiplash from her intense and extreme mood swings. One second she was being coy and flirty, trying to gain Travis’ attention, the next she was jealous that Katie wasn’t paying attention to her, and then she was in hysterics over the memory of the “tiny fingers” grabbing at her from under the crack in the door. I couldn’t keep up with her constantly changing personality and I definitely couldn’t understand her anxiety whenever she was separated from Katie.
I think the strangest thing about Jenni’s personality, however, was her treatment of the zombies. She almost seemed to lavish in their slaughter, which she was, surprisingly, quite good at.
Jenni had enjoyed shooting the woman who had rushed the window. Now she stood next to Katie, the night wind buffeting her dark hair, aiming at yet another zombie as it staggered out of the darkness and into the light pooling below the streetlamps. Tilting her head slightly, she studied his labored swagger, his profuse beer belly. His wife-beater shirt was stained with blood and gore.
She shot him in the knee.
He went down, growling, clawing at the ground. Over and over again, he tried to get up, only to have his leg give way beneath him. Finally, he looked up and saw her. Shrieking, he reached up hungrily.
Jenni narrowed her eyes and fired.
The pullet punched neatly through his head.
At this point in The First Days, we know very little about Jenni: she was a mother, she was in an abusive marriage, she has a stepson named Jason and she forms strong emotional bonds with those she believes will protect her. Leading up to this scene, we’re given ample opportunity for Jenni to acknowledge her experience with a fire arm, but while she does comment on how bored she is during Ralph’s gun demonstrations, she fails to bring up her already excellent marksmanship; she provides no reason as to why she is such a skilled shooter. Yet I’m meant to believe that she can not only incapacitate a zombie, from the roof of a building across the street, but that she can aim for specific body parts and make the shot?
With everything else being so negative, The First Days’ saving grace should have been it’s romantic elements. Unfortunately, every relationship in The First Days was built on gut instinct and instant attraction. Jenni immediately knows she can trust Katie to save her. Katie immediately knows that Travis is a good and kind man. Travis immediately knows that Katie will play an important role in the Fort. Words like “trust” and “love” and “bond” were thrown around within hours, sometimes minutes!, of two characters meeting for the first time. A lazy technique, it backfired completely for me; instead of believing in all of these instant connections, I was still trying to develop a connection of my own with just one of the main characters.
There’s so much more that I had issues with – why were two newcomer’s given such authority in the Fort, without having proven themselves worthy of that authority? Jenni’s erratic behaviour, her seemingly dismissive attitude towards her dead children, and her promiscuity so early after her husband’s death. Jason’s weird fascination with Katie’s sexuality – was I the only one uncomfortable by how much he used her sexuality to define her as a person? How often someone would comment on how their zombie apocalypse isn’t following the rules laid out in the movies (really?!) – but I want to highlight the few things I did enjoy! Nerit is one bad-ass grandma, even if she sometimes fell victim to the touchy-feely emotional garbage that permeates The First Days. The idea of using a construction site to create a fort was genius and I was really looking forward to seeing them clear out the hotel. Unfortunately, I doubt I’ll be picking up the sequel to see how they fare with that mission.