Leon, a cautious seventeen year old who recently relocated from New Jersey to London, must go on the run with his younger sister, Grace, and their mother, when a virus outbreak sweeps across Europe before engulfing the rest of the world. The plague kills with impunity, turning its victims into mush before integrating their DNA for its own sinister evolutionary agenda. Leon, Grace, and their mom must trust in each other if they are to make it to safety.
I was eager to start Plague Land after finding it at my local Target. Since I began working on my first ever postapocalyptic novel, The Swarm and the Flyer, last November for NaNoWriMo, I’ve focused on checking out more horror and survival-based books and shows.
The virus itself
The initial outbreak of the virus was unsettling and built up my anticipation for the rest of the story. Also, the train scene was sufficiently hair-raising.
I also appreciated Leon’s awareness and willingness to take the outbreak seriously from the very first news reports. Alex Scarrow did a wonderful job of fleshing out the impact that a bitter divorce can have on children. He also developed a mostly strong bond between Leon and Grace, which helped me to root for them both.
The pacing in the first 50 pages or so is rather slow. The story doesn’t really have a lot of thrust until the outbreak happened in London. I also found the chapters with the doctors who responded to the virus’ carnage to be out of place, especially since none of the doctors or scientists show up again for the rest of the story.
Outside of their interpersonal strife, I didn’t find much depth in Leon, his sister, Grace, or their mother. Other survivors popped in and out as needed, but they didn’t feel like they did much other than to give the plot little bursts of energy here and there.
I was also put off by the gore and explicit imagery, which didn’t feel hard-hitting so much as unnecessarily grotesque. This was especially out of place, given that Plague Land is marketed as a YA novel. I can see how the author, Alex Scarrow, was trying to appeal to the crowd that enjoys shows like The Walking Dead, but much of his horrific imagery didn’t feel earned. I would have been more forgiving if Leon and his family had shown stronger reactions to seeing the other survivors melt or get enveloped by the crab-like creatures that the virus spawned. Most of the time, however, their responses felt underwhelming, rather than simply muted by shock.
Some stray plot points
The way the virus’s growth and adaptation was portrayed was fairly interesting. However, the method of immunity that the survivors discovered later on seemed a bit out of the blue (no spoilers ahead). I was left wondering what the science behind the newfound immunity was, and I hope to find some more answers in Scarrow’s sequel.
Wrapping things up
In summary, I enjoyed Plague Land for its mostly fluid pacing, the unique ideas behind the evolutionary trajectory of the virus, and the initial outbreak. Parts of the plot left something to be desired, as did Leon’s overall growth into an unwilling hero hardened by great loss. I will probably check out the sequel, Reborn, when it becomes available here in the States.
2.5 out of 5 stars