Halloween might be over, but that doesn’t mean we stop embracing the scary around here. Welcome back to my soon-to-be-completed romp through the world of Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series. Today, we are discussing the newest addition to the series, Feedback. In Grant’s own words,
This standalone entry in the Newsflesh world follows a new blogging team through a new adventure…and a very familiar period in time. Feedback begins the day Feed begins; it ends the day Feed ends. (Warning, link leads to Grant/Seanan McGuire’s book release post, and there will likely be spoilers.)
Reading this book was an interesting experience. I was very excited to read this novel. The original trilogy are some of my favorite books to read. Getting a new addition was like an early birthday present.
So, what did I think? Because my review will include spoilers, I will say this here before I begin in earnest: this was a good book, with great characters, but I don’t think it will be one that I re-read. It’s a fine addition to the series. It shines a light on what it’s like to be on the opposite side of the spectrum from Shaun and Georgia Mason (who, we are told many times, have money, prestige, and thus a great advantage when compared to other bloggers). I would have liked more of these characters, but I don’t think that we’ll be getting any more any time soon.
Written by: Mira Grant
Pages: 496 (Kindle)
Series: Book 4 of Newsflesh
Why I Chose It: Grant is a favorite author of mine, and the original Newsflesh novels are excellent examples of the horror genre in general, and the zombie sub-genre especially.
There are two sides to every story…
We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we unleashed something horrifying and unstoppable. The infection spread leaving those afflicted with a single uncontrollable impulse: FEED.
Now, twenty years after the Rising, a team of scrappy underdog reporters relentlessly pursue the facts while competing against the brother-and-sister blog superstars, the Masons.
Surrounded by the infected, and facing more insidious forces working in the shadows, they must hit the presidential campaign trail and uncover dangerous truths. Or die trying.
Feedback is a full-length Newsflesh novel that overlaps the events of the acclaimed first novel in the series, Feed, and offers a new entry point to this thrilling and treacherous world.
There will be spoilers, unfortunately.
The Masons, Again and Again and Again
While they aren’t featured in this book directly, our beloved Georgia and Shaun Mason and their crew are never far from the page. Ash, Ben, Audrey and Mat learn that they were passed over by the Ryman campaign in favor of the Mason siblings and Georgette “Buffy” Meissonier. This evidently leaves a bit of a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and a chip on all of their shoulders. George and Shaun, Sir and Lady Not-Appearing-In-This-Novel, may as well be included as actual characters here. Our new character set refers to them frequently and the new blog team compares themselves to the After the End Times team. I’ve fallen into the same trap myself: observe me writing about the Masons in the room before I even begin to discuss the new characters. Some examples: Ash relishes the idea of taking on a zombie mob right in “the Masons’ home territory” early on in the novel. Later, when Governor Susan Kilburn is speaking to Ash and company about how she came to choose them as her blogging team, she references the Masons in connection to the Ryman campaign.
He’s a conservative man in many ways. He had the opportunity to work with an all-American team — how do you top a brother-sister pair and one of the last evacuees from Alaska? The people he picked were the ones he saw as the best possible assets (page 90).
Everyone loves the Masons. This is a weakness to Feedback and a disservice to the new set of characters. I would have loved to see them standing on their own without the constant comparisons and references to Shaun and George.
The New Team
The tale’s told by one Aislinn (Ash) North, an Irish expatriate who was desperate to get out of Ireland. So desperate, in fact, that Ash marries an American journalist named Benjamin Ross to escape. Green card marriages are still a crime in this future, unfortunately, so Ash and Ben stay married long after Ash is able to gain citizenship, out of fear that Ash may still be deported. Ash, a lesbian, is not-quite-secretly dating her fellow blogging teammate, Audrey Wen. In public, Ben, Ash and Audrey are a polyamorous trio. In private, Audrey wishes that Ash would just get on with it and divorce Ben so that Ash is free to be with Audrey publicly, and Ben is free to move on with his life and find a true wife. The fourth member of the team is Mat, a gender fluid Newsie who alternates between makeup tutorials and mechanical how-to videos.
The Problem of Mat
We don’t need to start another conversation about why representation matters in fiction. Writers with a great deal more talent than me have written much more eloquently on this topic multiple times. With Mat, gender fluid people had a character to look to. Sadly and disappointingly, Mat doesn’t make it to the end of the novel. It’s incredibly frustrating. Grant has no problem killing characters, and the fact that she killed one of the very few gender fluid individuals in speculative fiction is a shame. Furthermore, Mat’s death didn’t resonate with me as strongly as Buffy’s in Feed or Becks’ in Blackout. The problem of Mat is that they’re never really fully realized within the text. I made the following notes while reading the novel:
As I write this particular section, I am not yet finished with the novel, but I’m far enough into it that I should not be having this problem. And that is, I have no idea who Mat actually is. Ash informs the reader that Mat is gender fluid and primarily chooses to be referred to as “they.” Grant is extremely vague in her description of Mat. On one hand I can see why she made this choice. Grant is doing her best to respect her character’s life and choices, but in doing so she is making it difficult for me to visualize the character. Not being able to fully realize the character in my own mind makes it difficult for me to sympathize with the character. I feel incredibly disconnected from Mat, and that’s a shame. Gender fluid individuals don’t get a lot of representation to begin with. To offer such a character and then fail to fully realize them is a disservice to the character and to the group that they represent. I will add more to this section as soon as I’ve finished the novel and can speak more definitively on Mat and their role in the novel. This is, perhaps, a deliberate decision of Grant’s and I simply haven’t figured that much out at this point.
One common feature throughout Grant’s novels is excerpts from various characters’ personal blogs. Mat gets exactly two entries in Feedback.
It’s a sad, sorry shame that we don’t get a chance to see more of Mat. We are told, time and again, that they are a fantastic, talented person. We are told that their makeup tutorials and blog visits have increased tremendously. We are told that Mat intends to follow Governor Kilburn to Washington, DC at the end of the election, no matter if Kilburn goes as the new POTUS or as a cabinet member. We are told many things about Mat, but we barely see them. By failing to fully characterize Mat, we the readers are deprived of the actual emotional upheaval that their death should have brought on. It was sad that Ash, Audrey and Ben were sad when Ben died; I myself felt very little. It felt like a pointless, avoidable death, and I’m quite disappointed.
The Ladies Kick Ass and Take Names, Again
As usual, Grant’s women are fantastically portrayed. They’re clever, brave, brilliantly rendered individuals. It’s excellent to see Grant knocking it out of the park with these ladies. Aside from Ash and Audrey, we finally have the opportunity to meet the wrongly maligned Congresswoman Kirsten Wagman. Wagman is spoken about with a great deal of disdain in previous entries to the series. Here, we see Wagman in her own right. She’s a pragmatic woman who uses what she has to her best advantages. We’re told that she worked her way through law school by working as a stripper, and that she chooses to celebrate her past rather than try to hide it. Her opponents didn’t want to take her seriously due to her appearance and her background. This works well to Wagman’s advantage many times over. We are told that she, not Governor Tate, is Ryman’s closest competition on the Republican side of the fence. A serious bimbo wouldn’t be able to manage this easily.
Ash was a fine narrator. It was difficult not to compare her to our old friends from the rest of the series. She’s brave enough to help the Irwins mobilize after their gathering is targeted by the enemy, smart enough to know that they won’t all make it, and compassionate enough to know that they have to try and save as many as possible. She’s clever enough to subtly manipulate her fellow prisoners during her tenure at the Maze, which assists in her escape with Audrey, Ben and Jill. Her loyalty is, perhaps, her greatest strength. By the end of the novel she’s willing to do what she swore she wouldn’t: return to Ireland, to protect her loved ones.
I liked this book, but it’s not without flaws. There’s a lot more that I could go into, but I’m going to hold it for the sake of not spoiling every single thing that happens. Suffice to say that I feel like large sections of the text could have easily been edited out and would have made for a cleaner reading experience. If you’ve read the book and want to discuss it in the comments, please do! I look forward to your thoughts.