Fiend: Crown Publishers; 2013; 295 pages; cover design by Christopher Brand. Stenson has published stories and essays in various magazines, newspapers, and journals. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Publishers series. Fiend is Stenson's first published novel.
Fiend begins with first-person narrator Chase Daniels looking out a window. He watches a cute little girl creep up to a Rottweiler and rip out its throat. Thinking that his high from smoking "scante" has warped his vision, Chase retreats from the window toward the company of his friend named Typewriter. Both guys are getting high in Typewriter's house.
Typewriter is just as high as Chase, if not more; so both of them are shocked when the Rottweiler-killer girl breaks into the apartment with the intention of killing again, accompanied by little girl giggles. Typewriter picks up a typewriter and kills the zombie girl.
Chase decides to leave this murderous scene and go home to his apartment building, with Typewriter right behind, hoping this weird "trip" will end soon. They eventually notice that no one is in the streets, no cars drive by. Stores are empty. The first thing Chase sees at his apartment building are cats eating another tenant named Rebecca. Next the guys try Svetlana's apartment. A computer is on and some guy on the computer says they should kill Svetlana. Confused, Chase and Typewriter look around the room — and there is Svetlana, in the corner, ready to pounce on them, already turned into a zombie.
Never: Harlequin MIRA, September, 2013; 300 pages; cover design by Grace M. Conti-Zils Berger. McEntire has written the first two books of the YA "Lightbringer" trilogy: Lightbringer and Reaper. She has also published a short story, “Heels.”
Never begins with a prologue. It's one a.m. when Laurie hears noises coming from the basement. Laurie opens the basement door of their fix-up home in San Francisco and walks down the steps. Her girlfriend Kara is using a sledgehammer to demolish a brick fireplace. Laurie joins in and both ladies continue with the demolition. Soon the whole façade falls down to reveal a hidden opening.
Laurie has the ability to see a "grimacing and growling" face in all the mirrors. There's a mirror in the basement. When the bricks fall and the hidden room is revealed, the face laughs.
Chapter 1 introduces new characters. A child, Wendy, walks on the beach gathering shells with her mother, Mary. Mother tells Wendy that babies aren't in the Never because they are too pure. Along with other bits of knowledge, Mary gives philosophical advice, such as, "You have to sense what you are missing for suffering to exist....Only with reason, with higher thought, does true misery come." While Wendy asks questions and talks, Mother takes the shells and creates a doorway in the sand. Wendy opens the door and walks through.
Chapter 2 introduces us to adult Wendy who is in a coma and doctors are zapping her to bring her back to life. Walking on the beach with her mother was a coma-dream she had conjured up. Going through the dreamscape shell-lined doorway had awakened her. Surrounding Wendy are some friends: Eddie, Piotr, Lily, and Elle, who are all dead spirits. The Never, I assume, is the real world with which we are all familiar.
In the past, the Lightbringer Wendy had trusted her Light with a Reaper named Jane, who had twisted it. That's why Wendy was in a coma. And Wendy's mother is dead.
The Battle: Here we have a vulgar, coarse, offensive, dark, zombie-apocalyptic novel battling against a YA urban fantasy novel, the last book of three.
The first 25 pages of Fiend were filled with unique metaphors that helped stamp a definite visual to each scene. However, many of the metaphors and similes were crude and crass; i.e., the bloodied little girl who killed the Rottweiler is compared to "a used tampon." Other metaphors work well by giving details that run smoothly into the story: "my heart is 16th notes." Ignorant comments also fill the pages. Typewriter says that he "smells butt plugs." Chase responds, "grow up." Surprisingly, the crass statements flow smoothly, and fit in as well as the word "fuck" fits in with The Big Lebowski movie — necessary inclusions because the foul-mouthed words help define the characters. We're getting more than a glimpse of the world of drug addicts. The first 25 pages of this dark book drags you into the horror of addiction and spits you out when you have to close the covers of the book. It's decadently exhausting.
The narrator, Chase, shares his internal dialogue and thoughts, which are realistically clear and detailed. As soon as the killer girl-child is dead, Chase worries about how to keep from going to jail. Where did he touch things and leave his DNA? What story should he give to the police, because he didn't kill the girl — Typewriter did! Chase's stream of consciousness goes on tangents as well, with a few alternate-reality "what if" possibilities, which we all create from time to time. There are paragraphs of smoothly flowing flashbacks, giving backstory about our main character.
Stenson seems to be a true writer, which is why he can draw us into this bizarre, zombie-apocalypse novel. It's as if there are two kinds of zombies in this story: the drug addicts who would do anything for a hit and the zombie killers who would do anything to devour some blood and guts.
Never jumped from prologue to chapter one to chapter two with different settings and characters. It seemed to be a strategy to remind people what happened in books one and two — to bring us up-to-speed in order to understand where this series has been and where it's going.
McEntire uses onomatopoeic, sound words, such as, huurrk, slam, and whoosh-hisssshhhh. I loved the words. However, they made me think of words I might find in a book for younger readers. The main character, Wendy, is a strong female heroine, who has amazing abilities — always refreshing to read. I enjoyed learning that "The Never" was our world. Usually, books have characters from our reality entering other realms that have unique names. This twist intrigues me.
In conclusion, after reading 25 pages, I (Jackie) find the obscene, foul-mouthed Fiend an interesting, yet grueling, read. This zombie story has a stimulating plot and makes me want to read more to find out how this zombie disaster began. Never, on the other hand, failed to completely pull me in within the first 25 pages, most of which seemed to be backstory. I understand that some backstory is necessary, but I found the jumping from scenario to scenario not as exciting as it might have been had I read the first two books in the series. Despite my negatives, I give McEntire kudos for writing well and for creating excellent visual scenes.
THE WINNER: Fiend by Peter Stenson
Fiend advances to the second round to take on Electricity & Other Dreams by Micah Dean Hicks.
To see the whole bracket, click here.