My original FERAL audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.
I got my first inklings that Feral, by James DeMonaco (creator of The Purge franchise) and BK Evenson, was going to be a troublesome narrative right from the very start. Allie, a high school girl who the male authors want to make sure we understand sleeps in the nude, wakes up to a text message prompting her to click an innocuous link, which ends up taking her to a site where she can watch her best friend having sex. It’s clear to Allie that her friend is being secretly filmed, and she’s awfully gutted over this discovery. Thankfully, after Allie tells her friend that the boyfriend had invaded her privacy, secretly filmed them having sex, and then mass mailed the video to their entire high school, the bestie is totally OK with all this! It’s awesome news, in fact, the bestest thing ever since chocolate and Pornhub. She’s gonna be so popular now, like OMG! And then, on an otherwise completely unrelated note, the apocalypse hits.
So, look, I had some issues with Feral. In order to discuss them, I’m going to issue a BIG OL’ SPOILER WARNING FOR HERE ON OUT. Please consider yourself warned. Cool? Cool.
The apocalypse takes the form of a bioengineered virus that affects only the men and turns them feral. Once infected, they possess super-strength, super-speed, and are super, super-violent. The target of their rage is any and all women, and faster than you can say GamerGate, these rabid dudebros are ripping apart cheerleaders, attacking teachers, and beating their wives to death with their bare hands. Allie manages to escape the school, and then we cut to three years later, where the world has turned into basically ever single other zombie story ever told. The women keep themselves secluded in camps, occasionally sending sorties out into the demolished towns, where the threat of crazed, killer men lurks around every corner.
Feral has an awesome premise, and it could have been something special, something that could have paralleled and spoken to the inequities women face and the abuse some of them endure at the hands of men. And for a little while, it does! There are flashes of insight here and there, moments where I thought the authors were going to strive for meaning and use the horror, as horror often does, to make some kind of relevant social commentary. Unfortunately, this all gets squandered as DeMonaco and Evenson opt to travel far more mundane roads, regurgitating every single zombie trope imaginable, while somehow avoiding so much of the commentary baked into the far better stories told by George A. Romero. While the ferals aren’t exactly zombies, there’s not a whole lot to distinguish them either, and this book is built like a frigging zombie story almost right from the get-go.
Allie, for her part, has adapted well to the apocalypse and is a brilliant heroine – she’s smart, she’s tough, and she’s a brilliant tactician. The end of the world suits her and has given her purpose and meaning. She’s a bad-ass feral/zombie killer. Apparently, she also has a sister, but Kim is such an unimportant figure in this book that both Allie and the authors often forget about her entirely. Anywho. Allie’s awesome, an epitome of girl power and a survivor.
Never fear, though! There’s still one man in the whole human race who is uninfected, and he’s here to help restore gender stereotypes and save all these women-folk who have been faring for themselves just fine without him for three years now. Once Sam shows up, tough-girl Allie quickly becomes a damsel in distress, one who requires Sam’s rescuing not once, not twice, not three times, but four! Kinda makes you wonder how Allie was able to cope and survive at all lo these several manless years without a big tough guy to keep her safe.
Sam’s been abused by women, though, as the search for a cure and the continuation of the human species has brought him into contact with some unsavory survivors. You know how I said there wasn’t any kind of social commentary here? Well, I might’ve been a smidge wrong. Evenson and DeMonaco attempt to, in the grand tradition of zombie narratives, draw some parallels between ferals and the survivors. Turns out that by using their heartless scientific method to try and create a vaccine, the women are little better than the crazed, bloodthirsty men seeking to rape and kill them. Luckily, Sam and Allie have insta-love and his high cheek bones and her thick, lustrous hair just might save the world after all.
On the narrative front, Feral is a steaming, mendacious, tone-deaf pile of scat. On the narration front, it’s actually pretty well done and the story’s shifting points-of-view are told by different women. Structurally, this book is also a mess, with some chapters in third-person omniscient and others in first-person, usually for little rhyme or reason, and mostly just because, with occasional narration shift between Allie and Kim, when the authors or Allie can spare a moment’s thought for the poor, burgeoning twelve-year-old actress. The narrators are solid and adept in their readings, and I didn’t find any flaws in their delivery of the material or in the production of the audiobook itself. I just wish they would have had far better material to narrate.
Feral is well-packaged and well-narrated, but ultimately it’s just not very good. At its core, it’s essentially little more than poorly done Young Adult fiction strapped into a zombie harness. There are no shocks and even fewer surprises, other than how badly this whole damn mess was conceived and executed.
[Audiobook provided for review by audiobookreviewer.com.]
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