Blumhouse has been leading the way in horror production lately with big box office successes like The Conjuring, Split, and Get Out. I hadn’t realised that they were lending their name to novels too now. James DeMonaco, the writer/director of the hit, The Purge, gives us Feral, a horror book from the Blumhouse Books stable.
All signs point to it not being a typical school day for Allie. A drama-filled day begins when a sex tape of her best friend is widely circulated. Little does she realize that it will be the last day of school. Things get progressively stranger as the school day continues. Male students are distracted in the classroom and perform incredible feats of strength on the sports field. Slowly, all the male students begin showing strange symptoms, excreting a pus-like mucus substance, and running a high fever. This is the how the end of civilization begins.
A chemical fire released a virus that only affects males. It either kills them or speeds up their metabolism and makes them rabid. It’s an apocalyptic tale, but a change from the usual zombie infection tropes. There is no spreading of the infection. If a feral gets a woman, he will simply tear her to pieces.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the discussion of gender. Nearly all the characters are female. This is certainly something new in this kind of narrative and an enjoyable change. It could be argued that the feral males are a metaphor for rape culture. Males are savage, instinctual, and out of control. There are morally blurred questions asked about what both ferals and women do to try to keep their races alive.
The women are holed up together in a camp. Their interactions and the newly built societal structure is fascinating. There are certain similarities to the dramatic siege narrative of The Walking Dead. The book also weighs individual survival or responsibility against contributing to the group. Allie and her younger sister, Kim, have to grow up quickly in order to survive.
A number of chapters of the book are from the first person perspective of different characters. It’s an interesting way of giving us insight into what different characters feel about one another, without forcing the exposition. The tension of the book comes as much from the interactions of the characters as from the ever present threat of the ferals.
There are plenty of twists and turns and a thrilling climax. Some of the scenes and action set pieces are memorable. It’s full of action, but also thought provoking, bringing up issues and questions far beyond the words on the pages.
Reviewed by Andrew Tadman. @thebooksofblood.