Book Review: Feral

Allie Hilts was still in high school when a fire at a top-secret research facility released an airborne pathogen that quickly spread to every male on the planet, killing most. Allie witnessed every man she ever knew be consumed by fearsome symptoms: scorching fevers, internal bleeding, madness and uncontrollable violence. The world crumbled around her. No man was spared, and the few survivors were irrevocably changed. They became disturbingly strong, aggressive, and ferocious. Feral.

Three years later, Allie has joined a group of hardened survivors in an isolated, walled-in encampment. Outside the guarded walls the ferals roam free, and hunt. Allie has been noticing troubling patterns in the ferals’ movements, and a disturbing number of new faces in the wild. Something catastrophic is brewing on the horizon, and time is running out. The ferals are coming, and there is no stopping them.

My first encounter with James DeMonaco’s work was the film Skinwalkers, which I hated. However, The Purge was fantastic, so I started reading Feral with a hopeful attitude. Having Brian Evenson as a co-writer was encouraging since I’ve read Father of Lies and enjoyed it. I’m also a fan of post-apoc fiction; another thumb on the scale for this book.

Feral started out strong. The confusion and fear during the outbreak are realistically portrayed. Scenes of sudden and horrific transformations are vividly described, as are the deaths of those unlucky enough to get caught by the feral packs of crazed men. The first few chapters hooked me, and I settled in for the rest of the book.

Allie is a bonafide badass, using her old skills as a lacrosse star in all new ways. She’s a lone hunter type of woman; hyper-alert and determined to keep her young sister and herself alive. Small camps of women who survived the outbreak live in fortified camps, keeping in touch via radio. Allie is one of the few who are brave (or reckless) enough to spend days outside the minefields and barricades while she thins out the feral population and scavenges for supplies. The ferals have a “hive” of their own and have taken over the river docks, where no woman dares approach for fear of literally being torn apart. It doesn’t take much to foresee the coming conflict.

There’s a lot to like in this book. It’s certainly entertaining. Narrow escapes, tense chase scenes, and extreme zom– er, feral-killing rampages will satisfy the bloodlust factor. The women in the camp do their best to survive while trying to create a sense of normalcy for the children and young teens among them. It’s no surprise that all of them are traumatized, but many of them pair up for comfort. There’s a romantic subplot, but revealing the details involves spoilers, so that’s all I’ll say.

Another bonus comes from the author’s skill at screenwriting. We get multiple points of view on the story that play out like scenes in a film. The storytelling here feels cinematic, so people who are more accustomed to watching TV and movies will be right at home here. As a book, it works, but it would be a kickass movie; enough so that I wonder if this started out as a screenplay.

It’s easy to see that Feral leans heavily on zombie and post-apocalyptic tropes. Catastrophic outbreak of an experimental pathogen? Horrific transformations into a bestial form? Hordes of indiscriminate killers who want to eat human flesh? Band of plucky survivors who figure out they can mask their scent with the blood of dead ferals? Forbidden romance and putting one’s life before someone you love? It’s all been done before. But as I’ve strongly hinted throughout, if you’re a fan of zompoc fiction, you’re going to enjoy Feral.

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